Keri Miller wins second place in masters challenge

By Rebecca McCandless

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Florida State University’s Askew Student Life Center, Keri Miller, who is earning her Master of Fine Arts in English, was one of 14 finalists who competed to win the Master's in Four competition. The finalists are challenged to use only four minutes and four slides to explain their research to a panel of judges from various professional positions and focuses. FSU's Graduate School hosts the annual event.

The room was thick with nervous electricity as the audience and contestants felt the pressing weight of the time constraint.

Among the speeches on Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, Groundwater Seepage, and many other STEM-centered topics, Miller’s at-ease stage presence and humorous presentation stood out. Titled Crafting the Setting of a Novel: Inspiration, Imitation & Invention, Miller focused on describing her hometown: The Villages, located in central Florida and America’s largest retirement community.

Miller’s storytelling captivated the audience as she explained how her hometown inspired her novel’s setting. She even succeeded in getting the judges to laugh by poking fun at the “retirement community with a theme park aesthetic and invented history.” Judges awarded second place to Miller for her dynamic presentation.

Miller admits that she was convinced the awards would be given to the STEM-field students, so it was exciting for her to take second place, she says, and to see first place go to John Pension, a graduate student in FSU’s School of Theatre.

“It was fantastic to see a room full of mostly science-types be compelled and charmed by the humanities,” says Skip Horack, English professor and director of the Creative Writing Program. “Ask Keri about this novel she's working on—she's good at talking about it.”


Q&A with Keri Miller

Q: What was it like to compete in the Master's in Four competition? Was it difficult because of the parameters?

Keri: I’m an easy talker, loquacious some might say, so a four-minute time limit was really challenging for me. Standing up in front of the judges in the auditorium for the finals, of course, was totally different than when I practiced at home with a timer. I had to make quick decisions in the moment of what I could skip in order to get to the most important details. Maybe I didn’t show it, but I was nervous!

Q: What was the event like, and how do you feel about the results?

Keri: I almost didn’t enter the competition because they didn’t want a lot of text on the PowerPoint slides, and my thesis, my novel, is completely textual! I decided my safest bet was to talk about just one aspect of the novel, something I could represent visually and in four minutes, the setting.

All of the presenters are doing important research and creative works; I imagine it was difficult for the judges to choose the winners. In the end, I think public speaking skills were super important. I’ve done theater since kindergarten, plus I’ve been teaching for eight years; I value all of the opportunities I’ve had to stand up in front of an audience and speak.

Q: What was your presentation about, and why did you choose the topic for your presentation?

Keri: I had a feeling presenting the setting of my novel, which is inspired by The Villages (the largest retirement community in the country) would be a crowd pleaser. Especially in Florida. It’s a fascinating place, and it has rapidly changed central Florida forever. I largely chose it as the setting of my novel because they say to write what you know, and that’s what I know! I went to The Villages Charter High School, and my family has lived in the area for generations (years before The Villages was developed). I know The Villages is a crowd pleaser, and hearing people laugh during my presentation confirmed that, but the real aim of my novel is to write about universal human experiences: identity, family, and community.

Rebecca McCandless is a junior majoring in English on the creative writing track, with a minor in communication.

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