UVa-Wise welcomed a robust group of 317 freshmen this fall, including a mermaid. Wait. What?

Charlottesville native Audrey Miller is a professional mermaid. She earned spending money in high school portraying a mermaid for youngsters at birthday parties, charity events and photo shoots. Miller doesn’t just dress up in a mermaid tail and meet and greet the birthday guests. She swims in pools and lakes to the delight of the youngsters and others.

“It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy doing it,” she said.

Miller, in full character, once spoke to an oceanography class at the University of Virginia. She rolled into the classroom in a wheelchair and took selfies with the students after the presentation.

So just how does one become a professional mermaid? As with most things, the path began on Google. Miller, obsessed with all things mermaid, was in the seventh grade when she saw a website for a company that made mermaid tails. The tails were not just the cloth tails that performers like Bette Midler and the Disney Party Princesses use. These tails were single fin devices that allow the wearer to swim well.

She was surprised to find that being a mermaid was actually a job.

“I thought…wait…this is a job?” she recalled. “You can actually do that?”

Being in seventh grade, Miller was not exactly swimming in cash. She ordered a monofin from EBay and sewed her own mermaid tail.

“I was hooked,” she said.

Miller purchased her first professional mermaid tail in eighth grade from the company that she found on Google, made her own website to promote her party and charity events services, and the bookings begin to flow.

“I made business cards and placed posters around town,” she said. “I’ve now been doing this for six years.”

Her hash tag is #cvillemermaid. She was also not the only professional mermaid in the Charlottesville area. She found a mentor on grounds who goes by the stage name of Mermaid Hales, a Virginia Beach performer.

“She is amazing,” Miller said.

Miller, when asked how she chose Mr. Jefferson’s little college in the mountains, said she fell in love with it when she visited with parents Scott and Rachel Miller.

“I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, but I fell in love with UVa-Wise,” she said. “I thought I’d be homesick, but it’s like home now. Everybody is so nice.”

Miller, who also has a keen interest in history, especially Egyptian artifacts and mummies, has decided to major in history. Professor Brian McKnight’s history class is one of her favorites this semester.

“He teaches the way that I feel about history,” she said.

And like her realization that someone could make money as a mermaid, Miller was equally delighted to find she could build a career working with history preservation in a museum.

“How perfect,” she said.