Psychology Student Sierra Miller '27 Publishes Children's Book

Author Richard Gross '24 is a Media & Communications major and works as a student assistant at JWU, contributing to JWU News.

Johnson & Wales student Sierra Miller ’27 has a story to tell. In fact, she may even have a few up her sleeve. As a first-year psychology major, Sierra has already written, illustrated and published her own children’s book titled, Rascal the Raccoon’s NF Adventures. The book follows a raccoon named Rascal through his daily life with neurofibromatosis (NF1), a genetic condition that causes tumors to grow along nerves.

A woman smiling

This condition is one that Sierra is very familiar with — she was diagnosed with NF1 when she was just three and a half years old. After enduring numerous hospital stays throughout her childhood, Sierra was inspired to create something that would help children get through similar experiences.

“I really needed a character like a Rascal when I was younger,” she shared. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. I want kids to know it’s not their fault and there is a support system who will get them through things — it’s important to know that you're not alone.”

Bringing her book to life

The idea to write a book came from one of the children Sierra used to babysit. Sierra had written them a short story about camping safety that they adored, so they pushed her to keep writing. “I was like, sure, why not?” said Sierra. “I really enjoy working with kids and hopefully when I’m working in the future as a therapist, it’s with troubled youth or kids who suffer from chronic conditions.”

Part of, if not all of Sierra’s mission with her writing is to advocate for and educate children who may be battling a chronic condition. Hospitals can be extremely intimidating, and at times they can be scary places — especially for a young child. Through her first-hand experience and knack for storytelling, Sierra aims to help younger individuals achieve a sense of comfort and security in medical environments, all while amplifying their voices and creating stories that make medical terminology and experiences easier to understand.

Through her journey with NF1, Sierra has received a variety of treatments, including chemotherapy. During her sophomore year of high school, Sierra underwent treatment to remove the remainder of a plexiform tumor. Though she experienced a tremendous loss of energy, she found that baking offered her some relief, and it ended up playing a vital role in her recovery. It was then she discovered that her passion for baking went hand in hand with her aspirations of being a beacon of hope for young kids dealing with chronic illness.

Papers with drawings on them spread out on a table

Finding Johnson & Wales

When a counselor at her Colorado high school suggested Johnson & Wales for college, Sierra knew she was headed in the right direction. JWU offered the opportunity to explore both Psychology and baking, unlike other schools. She came for a tour of the university, loved what she saw and submitted her application. Even though she was advised that it would be difficult to have both an academic and culinary major, Sierra channeled some determination and enrolled anyway. She now majors in psychology and plans to take intro-level baking classes as electives in the future.

In her short time at JWU, Sierra has already found an ever-flowing channel of creativity that she is able to touch upon both in and out of the classroom. “I love being creative, but I also think there’s times where it needs to be within the box,” she said. “Especially with psychology, it’s important that you follow the rules and are taking care of your clients. Johnson & Wales has really provided a lot of space for different creativity, especially my professors. I’ve been able to share rough drafts of my book to get feedback and hear what they're thinking of it, which is really useful because that helps the creative process.”

She has found that the JWU community always strives to celebrate and uplift student work, whether you’re perfecting your craft in the classroom or pursuing a passion project. “My professor connected me with the JWU media team, who put out pictures of my book and everything,” Sierra said. “That’s been really amazing.”

Looking ahead

As of now, Sierra’s published work is rooted in her own experience and journey with NF1, but in the future, she hopes her books can be used as a platform to explore other conditions. As far as illustration and art style, Sierra says she’d be open to working with other artists and writers who suffer from chronic conditions.

Unfortunately, Sierra was also recently diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that causes the heart rate to increase very quickly after getting up from a sitting or lying position. She was inspired to write another book focusing on that condition. She hopes to work alongside someone else who deals with POTS in order to accurately portray the experience, as well as give them an opportunity to share their story and have their voice heard.

A woman looking at pictures on a table

After graduation, Sierra shared that she hopes to become a counseling therapist — with a twist. She hopes to combine therapy with her passion for baking to open a shop where she can teach children dealing with chronic illness how to channel their energy into baking.

“I want to teach kids how to bake so they can have it as a life skill, but also as a healthy coping mechanism,” she explained. “The proceeds of this baking therapy could be donated to charity, future college funds or medical expenses.”

Sierra Miller is a remarkable example of a student who not only thrives academically and creatively but is a figure of inspiration for the entire JWU community. Her advocacy for those with chronic conditions comes from a truly selfless mindset and approach to life, and her journey serves as a testament to the exciting opportunities that await prospective students at Johnson & Wales.

If you would like to learn more or support the cause in any way, check out the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Don’t forget to check out “Rascal the Racoon’s NF Adventures” and keep an eye out for upcoming works!  
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