SMU Tower Scholar is knee-deep in the business of politics as election season heats up

SMU Tower Scholar Zach Miller’s interest in politics played out like it does for many college students his first couple years at SMU – he volunteered for political campaigns and pursued internships.

By Kenny Ryan
SMU News

DALLAS (SMU) — SMU junior Zach Miller’s interest in politics played out like it does for many college students his first couple years at SMU – he volunteered for political campaigns and pursued internships.

But then, in the months following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Miller decided he wanted to kick his involvement up a notch, and earn some compensation at the same time. As the 2018 election season gains momentum, Miller is working as finance director for a Texas Senate hopeful and has launched his own political consulting firm: Atlas Strategies LLC.

Miller, an economics major, is benefitting from a unique immersion experience in public policymaking for SMU undergraduates: Ten students like Miller are chosen every year as Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars, awarding them access to a specialized curriculum and a minor in public policy and international affairs. The scholars learn from global and national leaders and policy makers, take advantage of specialized study abroad opportunities and senior-year internships.

“One of the biggest reasons I launched my firm last year was the network SMU provides,” says Miller. “I felt, being here now, I could benefit from the networking connections while I have direct access to people who can help me out. When I graduate, I’ll have access to the alumni networking, which is incredible, but it doesn’t compare to a dean being willing to help.”

That’s Thomas DiPiero he’s talking about – dean of Dedman college. When Miller decided he wanted to launch his political consulting firm, it didn’t take long for him to reach out to DiPiero with a request: Could he help Miller get in touch with SMU alumnus and State Rep. Rafael Anchia?

DiPiero didn’t hesitate.

“I invited Rafael to meet with Zach in my office, and it was incredible,” DiPiero said. “I don’t know what Rafael was expecting, but Zach quickly proved he knew all these details about the local Dallas political landscape that I knew nothing about. By the end of the meeting, Rafael was asking Zach for his opinions on what he thought about a variety of issues. He was clearly impressed.”

Despite being from Springfield, Mo., Miller had picked up the Dallas political landscape quickly. Political campaigns are the same everywhere, he says. They all have field operations, fundraising teams, communication structures – their org charts all look alike. To jump into a new political environment, all one has to do is research the local issues.

Anchia was just one of many contacts Miller reached out to as he began to build a network of contacts to cultivate for clients last year. Now, the entrepreneurial student is in the process of launching a second consulting firm, CRCE Consulting LLC, which will specialize in reporting clients’ ethics paperwork – a taxing responsibility most political campaigns are all too happy to farm out to someone else.

“Ambition was another part of it,” Miller says. “Being a volunteer was important, but I felt I was beyond that stage and I could do more than block walking and phone banking. I decided this was the right time to pursue that next level in politics.”

Miller never expected to be here when he arrived at SMU, but he couldn’t be happier or more excited with the future – a future he says is largely available to him thanks to the support of the faculty and network he found at SMU.

“Dr. Farrar Myers, director of the Tower Scholars, which I’m proud to be a part of, has she been incredibly helpful advising me professionally and personally, in terms of getting my consulting firm off the ground and giving me basic advice to get the ball rolling,” Miller says. “The dean, of course, has been another one of those people, I’ve talked of him extensively. I cherish both of them and am thankful of the support they’ve provided.”


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Media Contact:

Kenny Ryan
SMU News & Communications