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Fifty-eight high school graduates from across Montana have been selected for their effort and potential as the seventh class of MSU’s Hilleman Scholars Program, named after Maurice Hilleman, one of the state’s most influential, but least known, native sons. 

Fifty-eight high school graduates from across Montana have been selected for their effort and potential as the seventh class of Montana State University’s Hilleman Scholars Program, which is named after Maurice Hilleman, one of the state’s most influential, but least known, native sons. 

The list includes Caroline Spotted Eagle, Seth Still Smoking and Jade Wippert of Browning and Zander Osborne of Cut Bank.

“A scholarship from MSU changed the direction of Maurice Hilleman’s life, taking him from a farm in Miles City to medical laboratories where he developed vaccines that have saved millions of lives,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “The Hilleman program allows new generations of Montana sons and daughters to explore their potential, as Dr. Hilleman did, and we can’t wait to see what they achieve.” 

Hilleman was born on a farm near Miles City in 1919. His twin sister died during childbirth, and his mother died two days later. He was raised by an uncle and aunt and, as a child, helped the household make ends meet by raising chickens. Hilleman had planned to work at a local department store, but his brother told him that MSU – then Montana State College – offered scholarships. Hilleman applied, won a scholarship and graduated in 1941. 

Over the next 43 years, Hilleman became the world’s leading vaccinologist, developing more than 40 important vaccines for human and animal health. Of the 14 vaccines commonly given to children, Hilleman developed nine. Among them are vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia. He spent the majority of his career at Merck & Co., which recently estimated that his vaccines have been given to more than 750 million people worldwide. 

When Hilleman died in 2005, scientists who were quoted in his New York Times obituary credited him with saving more lives than any other person in the 20th century. 

In honor of Hilleman’s legacy, MSU started the Hilleman Scholars Program for Montana residents in 2016. Each year, Hilleman Scholars are selected based on personal essays, nomination letters, grades and financial need. But paramount in the selection process is evidence of significant academic achievement, leadership and career potential.   

“The world needs more Dr. Hillemans to solve problems to advance our communities and economy through leadership and consequential efforts,” said Carina Beck, vice provost of the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success at MSU. “These Hilleman Scholars truly are leaders, thinkers and game-changers. It is our intention to help our future leaders in Montana, through the power of a university education, develop the skills, networks and creative ideas that will shape their careers and advance their communities.” 

Beck added that this work does not happen without partnerships. She thanked the Hilleman family, the program’s investors and inspirational speakers, Hilleman Scholars’ families, Montana K-12 educators, and the faculty and staff at MSU who make a difference each day to help advance the future of Montana. 

Hilleman Scholars are eligible for up to $6,500 in academic support for their first year and $4,000 per year thereafter. If they make satisfactory academic progress and demonstrate exemplary commitment to the program in their first three years, scholars may become eligible for an additional $3,000 at the end of their junior year to apply toward a study-abroad experience. Hilleman Scholars are expected to graduate in four years. 

The MSU Hilleman Scholars Program begins with a monthlong Summer Success Academy on the MSU campus. The intense program, administered through the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success, is designed to boost college-level math, writing and critical thinking skills and to equip students with effective learning strategies for the coming academic year.

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