Matthew Miller once walked the halls of Litton-Reaves Hall as an ambitious and enthusiastic Virginia Tech student.

This semester, he returned to the academic building just as hopeful and excited – if not more so – than he was years ago.

Miller is the new coach of the Virginia Tech Livestock Judging Team after serving nearly 25 years with Virginia Cooperative Extension. He hopes to build a team of about seven to 10 students who will travel across the United States to compete against others at land-grant institutions.

“It’s certainly a competitive event, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not a competitive individual,” Miller said. “There is a level of pride … and I like the fact that I’ll be representing the orange and maroon.”

Miller knows a thing or two about competitive livestock judging, a process of evaluating, selecting, placing, and learning the various livestock species. He was a member of the team as an undergraduate and coached the team as a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It is a passion that began as a child and followed him throughout his academic and professional careers.

Miller grew up in Southwest Virginia and was exposed to livestock judging from an early age.

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from what is now the School of Animal Sciences. He started with Extension in 2000 and worked in several localities throughout Virginia as an agent of agriculture and natural resources. For the past 15 years, he was stationed at the Wythe County Extension office, and during the last decade, he worked with youth in 4-H, teaching them livestock judging skills.

“We’ve been very successful, and I think this experience affords those kids an opportunity to see and go places and do things they may not otherwise be able to,” Miller said. “We could say it prompts them for a career in animal-related agriculture. I think it certainly does, but I think it also primes them for a career from a public speaking standpoint, from a decision-making standpoint. It's a coat-and-tie-type event, and I value that activity quite a bit.”

Kelli Garrett met Miller during her time in the Virginia Youth Livestock Program. Not only her livestock judging coach, “he is a life mentor and soul who seeks the talent and character of others,” she said.

“Mr. Miller is the individual who took time to show me all these opportunities and encouraged me to chase after whatever it is I desire,” she said. “I know his impact on my life has not concluded yet, and without question, I can say he is a figure to think highly of.”

At Virginia Tech, Miller said he is looking forward to forming these types of relationships with his students. Student advising and teaching a course to get students interested in the competition will be among his other major responsibilities.

He said providing students with the same outstanding education and support he received as a student will be a top priority.

“If you can impact students in a positive way, that’s where I think I can help,” Miller said. “I can give back. I can give students guidance. I can point them in the right direction. I can help them through the entire four-year process.”

Once the team is formed, students will travel across the nation with Miller to compete. Miller jokingly calls these competitors “friend-petitors.”

“We need to go compete to the best of our ability. And, hey, if we can knock off some of our friends on competition day, we'll still be friends when it's over,” Miller said. “The way I look at it now, anybody in agriculture is in the minority. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what you look like, and it doesn’t matter what your economic background is. None of that matters if you're in agriculture. It takes all of us.”

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