By: Ananya Sen
Kathy Millage is an Office Administrator at the IGB.
Walking into the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology can be intimidating. If you’re a researcher, the main building has a similar layout to most of the laboratories on campus. If you’re not, you might enter the gatehouse instead, where you will be greeted by numerous displays of Carl Woese and IGB research. Confused, and maybe a little overwhelmed, you might turn to the office, where Kathy Millage makes it a point to greet you with a smile.
“Some of the people who come in are extremely nervous, especially the undergraduate students. Since I’m a talker, I try to make people feel comfortable and I tell them that the IGB is full of nice people and a great place,” Millage said. The most common question she is asked is “Where is room 612?” in a building that does not have six floors.
To many of us, starting our work days at 8 am is challenging; not so for Millage. Born and raised in Cissna Park, a small farming community approximately 50 miles north of Urbana-Champaign, Millage has always been an early riser. “I was raised on the farm and we primarily had cattle. My older brother and I had to feed them before we went to school,” Millage said.
Growing up, Millage was fascinated by forensics. She wanted to be a crime scene investigator, collecting evidence to help the police. Unfortunately, her high school career counselor told her that it was not a job for a woman. “It was 1975 and things were different for women. It’s so great that things have progressed since then,” Millage said.
Spurred by her interest in science, Millage decided to pursue a career in medicine. Although she was interested in becoming a nurse, she lacked the financial resources. She instead earned a degree in medical transcription. Over the next two decades Millage worked as a medical secretary, working on transcribing voice-recorded medical reports and scheduling appointments and surgeries.
Millage joined the University of Illinois in 2007. She first worked at the University of Illinois Foundation at Harker Hall, and joined the IGB in 2008. “Although the Foundation was a great place, it wasn’t a good fit for me,” she recalled. “The IGB building looked modern and gorgeous. Everything clicked.”
On a day-to-day basis, Millage helps people obtain i-cards in the IGB system, instructs them on required trainings, and provides them with the building keys. The biggest project that Millage works on, however, is the biennial inventory, where she tracks down over 2,400 assets that belong to the IGB.
“I enjoy the work and you meet a lot of people when you’re trying to locate and confirm assets,” Millage said. “Tracking down computers is the hardest because the technology ages so quickly that sometimes laptops are scrapped or taken apart and used for parts. The IGB is also different because we have assets across the Illinois campus in over 30 buildings and offsite locations.”
In addition to this Herculean task, Millage creates and takes on new duties to meet unaddressed needs. "I've made the job my own. At some point I started looking for new things to do,” Millage said. “People don’t realize their i-cards expire and I decided to send them reminder emails. They really liked that. I also update the IGB database after students graduate.”
After 15 years, Millage will retire in March 2023. “This is the best job I have ever had. You usually hear horror stories about workplaces, but the people here are so nice. In some places you’re called on the carpet for every little mistake; I knew the IGB was going to be a good fit because my bosses always told me that everything is fixable,” Millage said.
“It is going to be hard to retire because I like the people and job so much,” Millage said. “I am also proud of working at the IGB because of the its role in the COVID test. I thought it was incredible how the campus came together. I was really proud to say I know the people involved.”
Millage plans on spending her time with her family and traveling with her husband. Their bucket list includes Yellowstone National Park and Millage is excited to explore it through the lens of the research she has seen at the IGB. It’s a fitting parting gift considering everything she has done to help the IGB community.
By: Ananya Sen
Photos By: Julia Pollack