‘You are capable of anything’: Glenville grad apprentices at national magazine
Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023
There’s no stopping Glenville High School graduate Halee Miller.
It’s evident after speaking with her only a few minutes that Miller has the ability and determination to achieve whatever she sets her mind to.
The Iowa State student got her start after high school at the former Marketing Plant in Albert Lea under account management. Then, after her freshman year at Iowa State, she worked remotely part-time during the COVID-19 pandemic with Albert Lea-based Mortarr, an online inspiration gallery and networking platform developed for the commercial construction and design industry. In the summer of 2021 she completed her official marketing internship with the company, writing articles for The Forum by Mortarr, which highlights commercial construction and design, and doing some graphic design and copyrighting work.
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Miller said she actually started going to college as a pre-vet major, studying animal science.
“I’ve had just an innate skill I think for writing, and I did well in things like that,” she said. “I liked school and I enjoyed my art classes, but I was also good at chemistry and biology.”
She has always loved animals and grew up in 4-H and FFA, showing sheep and goats and serving as president of both organizations.
After pursuing animal science her freshman year, she said she discovered it wasn’t the path she wanted to take.
“I felt like it wasn’t going to give me enough creative freedom,” Miller said. “I’m the type of person where I can never be doing one thing for too long.”
So she changed course and got into the school’s program for graphic design.
“I knew at that time I wanted to work in magazines,” she said, noting she had long been inspired by the Magnolia magazine with Chip and Joanna Gaines. “They did it in a whole new way where it was beautiful, huge images of photography. They didn’t scrunch a bunch of ads in it. It was really good writing, and they featured small businesses and little gems that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the spotlight.”
Her initial goal was to work for the couple, and though that hasn’t happened thus far, she did have the opportunity to plant a seed one day while attending a basketball game with Iowa State and Baylor University that was attended by Chip Gaines.
“I thought you only get these opportunities once in a while, so I wrote my name and my email on a napkin and a little note, and I walked up to his security guard and asked him if he could give it to him for me,” she said.
Instead of handing it to him for her, the security guard said he would let her give it to him in person.
She spoke with Gaines briefly and gave him her contact information, which he said he would give to his public relations staff member.
It didn’t turn into much, she said, but through another opportunity she is now in an apprenticeship through Dotdash Meredith, the digital and print publisher that owns Magnolia, as well as many others, including Better Homes & Gardens.
Miller said after working on her graphic design major through the fall semester of her sophomore year in 2020, she changed course again a little, recognizing her love of photography, switching her major to journalism and mass communications and minoring in critical studies in design.
The school offers two graphic design spots and eight journalism spots through the apprenticeship program with Dotdash Meredith, and once you’re accepted, you get to pick your favorite publications. She said while she loves digital, she wanted to get the experience of print and applied for the print Better Homes & Gardens.
“It was a magazine growing up that my grandma always had,” she said. “We would go up north and she’d always have them. She’d bring all of them up north to read, and I would sit there and read them. I just loved that experience, it felt so nostalgic to me. It felt full circle that I had the opportunity to do it.”
Through that she has worked full days in the Home Editorial Department in Des Moines working under senior editors.
She said it started with making calls, fact checking and making sure things were easy for readers to find.
She has learned a lot about writing with each piece going through five different editors and had her first short piece publish in the Better Homes & Gardens recent holiday issue with Dolly Parton on the cover. She has spreads coming up in the March and April issues and will likely go beyond that.
“When I saw my first piece printed — that was a moment I had been dreaming of since I heard about the program,” Miller said. “Having it be a magazine my grandparents and my parents knew about, I just wanted to make them proud. Getting to have my byline in something that I know that they read — it’s just exciting.”
She said she is grateful for the opportunities she has had and recognizes it’s not something that every person her age gets to experience.
The apprenticeship ends in May close to graduation, though her work will continue to be published through December.
Next, she has to figure out what to do next, whether there is a possibility of working full time there. She said Better Homes & Gardens also has a large digital team.
“There’s something special about putting all the work into an issue and then you see it come out and you see your name on it, and it’s rewarding,” Miller said. “It’s always something new every month, which is really fun, and it’s high-paced. I think I would like to stay within the company and see if that works out, but if it doesn’t there’s something better out there. “
She has a passion for creating food content and also loves traveling, so there may be other options with other companies owned by Dotdash Meredith, including AllRecipes and Travel & Leisure.
She studied abroad last year in Italy, learning about food styling and learning more about how to use a camera. She said her love of photography began with her uncle, David, who died in February 2022.
Last summer, she started taking pictures of everyone she knows and has been growing her photography business, Halee J Creative.
As if she’s not busy enough, she is also engaged to be married in June 2024 to her fiance, Derek Van Ryswyk.
She thanked her mentor at Mortarr, Jen Levisen, as well as Mortarr co-founder Abby Murray, who she said took a chance on her.
Miller said she has also always been lucky to have her parents, Brad and Susie Miller, who always told her that she could achieve anything she sets her mind to.
But she wanted to remind others who are just coming out of high school that they are in charge of their own future.
“I always tell myself you are capable of anything you want to work toward and set your mind to,” she said.