Emeriti professor submerges self in hobby

February 14, 2011

Thirty feet beneath the surface of the Maldives, Mardel Miller rose up along the rock wall, nearing the end of her dive.

Sun streaking through the water, she beheld a glorious sight: pedestal-shaped coral in bold yellows, oranges and greens, reaching in all directions, teeming with fish and declaring the majesty of the coral outgrowth known as the Tabletops dive site.

She paused to capture the sight with her underwater camera.

That is just one of the experiences that confirmed Miller's passion for scuba diving and underwater photography.

"I knew I would like it, and, of course, fell in love with it the first time I got in," said the associate director of education student services emerita from Indiana State University's Bayh College of Education.

One could say Miller thrives in H2O. Having been a swimming instructor, lifeguard, member of the Sycamore swim team (she earned three degrees from ISU including her bachelor's in 1966), and part of the Dolphins (a water ballet club), she unknowingly set the foundation for a mid-life love. Miller took her first scuba dive at age fifty-five. Now, she is beginning her twelfth year as an active scuba diver.

Miller said the hobby "kicked in" with her retirement in 2004, and she now enjoys traveling often with her best dive buddy Michele Boyer, who is a professor in the Bayh College of Education.

"Since I've started diving in 1999, I have done about 420 dives, so that's a bit above the average," she said smiling.

Miller took up underwater photography with the advice of a dive instructor.

"My instructor, when I was taking the pictures, said, ‘You should buy a camera and just take pictures. You dive better.'"

The camera served as a distraction from the technicalities of diving itself, improving her diving skill.

Though she claims she has no favorite place, Miller has collected some imperishable memories with that camera.

In Utila, Honduras, she swam inches away from an "adolescent" 22-foot-long whale shark while she steadied herself enough to snap a full-length shot-the same photo that was featured on the Ecocean research center's website. The Tabletops site in the Maldives, off the coast of India, became her favorite dive because of its expansive and unexpected coral display.

She's also submerged herself in waters of the Caribbean, the Coral Sea, and even strip pits and ponds, among others. According to Miller, all these places have a mysterious beauty.

"There's a serenity about it all, and you're actually in with that. I think it's amazing; it's just so amazing," she said. "There's almost a sense of spirituality that's part of it too. You kind of feel like there's got to be something bigger than you are."

Not only has Miller learned to appreciate the tranquility of the peaceful underworld, but she's also made a personal vow to advocate the protection of our oceans. She looks for opportunities to speak to elementary and junior high school students, so she can share her underwater photos, scuba experiences and her passion for ocean preservation.

The photography remains supplementary to scuba diving itself, and is not without its challenges.

"Fish don't want to pose for you. I could probably do a whole book on fish tails. I got the tail of about everything you could think of," she admitted with laughter.

Miller has found that underwater perspective changes with the experience of the diver.

"When you first get in and you're a new diver, you say, ‘Look! A big fish!' and the longer you dive, the more you look for smaller and smaller [fish]. It's not because you tire of those [larger] things. It's because you know there's so much more and you don't see it until you go really looking."

Though Miller took various awards at the Vigo County Fair for her photography over the years, her motivation to dive transcends the desire for honor and recognition. The hobby gives her life substance.

"I've always believed in education and continuing to learn. It's just one of my passions...to think there's so much to know and we know so very little. And the other thing is I think it tends to keep us younger. I just think continuing to learn just keeps us moving and keeps us alert and keeps us younger and healthier."

Photo:
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Mardel Miller on a dive with her camera. Courtesy photo

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Photo by Mardel Miller

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Photo by Mardel Miller

Writer: Mallory Metheny, Indiana State University, media relations assistant, at 812-237-3773.