A native of Pasco, Washington, Nate Miles (BA 1982) grew up in a very low-income family.
“We weren’t poor,” says Miles. “There’s a difference between poor—where you have no values—and being broke.”
So when a teacher encouraged him to consider college, his father pushed back, telling him to learn a trade or get on at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
His mother approached it differently. One day at the Porter family home, where his mother worked, Miles ate lunch in the kitchen when he heard his mom from the next room.
“Lord, today,” she said. He went to the door to listen.
“I thought, ‘Uh‑oh,’ because usually, when my mom said, ‘Lord, today,’ you were in trouble,” says Miles.
“But this was different. She said, ‘Lord, today, I thank you. I thank you for my children. I thank you for my job. I thank you for our home. Lord, today, I have a favor to ask. My son wants to go to college. I don’t know what to tell him. I’ve never been to college. I don’t know how you get into college or what it costs. I don’t know where to send him. But, Lord, today, if you could help him…”
A few days later, Mrs. Miles received a call from the Porters. They asked her to come over and bring Nate.
“We get there and Miss Porter says, ‘Elise, when you were here on Friday, I heard you praying. You’ve been cleaning for us for over 20 years, and I’ve watched Nate grow up. He’s a good boy, so over the weekend, Fred and I talked about it and decided that if you want him to go to college, we’re going to pay for it.”
Access and success
The Porters’ generosity enabled Miles to attend the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1982 with a BA in communications.
He worked in journalism before he was drawn to politics, working for state Senator George Flemming for seven years before becoming a lobbyist for the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
Throughout, Miles volunteered at numerous community and non-profit organizations. It was in one of those roles that he found himself back in Olympia, testifying before a committee about the importance of Medicaid patients having access to brand-name drugs. Miles brought some of the legislators to tears. When the committee adjourned, a representative of Eli Lilly approached him.
“He said, ‘If you can do for us every day what you just did here, we’d like to hire you,” Miles recalls. “The rest is history.”
Pass it on
The Porters did what they could do for a young man without means to access higher education. Miles, now the VP for Strategic Initiatives at Eli Lilly and Company and a member of the of the Foster School’s Advisory Board, remains motivated by that act of kindness.
“I don’t have big money, but I do what I can,” says Miles. “I’ve probably helped seven or eight kids get through college.”
It’s a humble statement considering that Miles has kids of his own; one is a graduate of the Foster School and another is currently attending. His son is a junior in high school.
It doesn’t stop there. Miles and his family recently established an endowment with the Consulting and Business Development Center to provide stipends to student consultants.
“The kids always ask, ‘How can I repay you?’ I say, ‘Do the same for ten more when you’re able.’”