BOZEMAN — An innovative program at Montana State University that supports Montana students based on their effort and potential will be sustained into the future with the help of a new $1 million endowment, university officials announced today.
The endowment will support the Hilleman Scholars Program, named after MSU graduate and vaccinologist Maurice Hilleman. The funds are from Lorraine Hilleman, Maurice Hilleman’s widow, as well as from 11 additional individual donors and from Merck & Co., where Maurice Hilleman spent the majority of his career.
“We are so grateful to Mrs. Lorraine Hilleman, to Merck & Co. and to our other incredible donors for their vision and generosity,” said Mary Jane McGarity,
vice president of development with the MSU Alumni Foundation. “This endowment will provide critical support for generations of Hilleman scholars for years to come.”
A 1941 Montana State graduate with dual degrees in chemistry and microbiology, Hilleman is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of millions through the development of a variety of vaccines, including eight of the 14 vaccines commonly given to children. His name is often spoken along with Jonas Salk and Louis Pasteur as pioneers who fundamentally changed human health.
Exclusively for Montana residents, the Hilleman Scholars Program was inaugurated in honor of Hilleman in 2016. Each year approximately 50 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, leadership and career potential.
Hilleman scholars are eligible for up to $6,500 in tuition assistance for their first year and $4,000 per year for the following three years. Scholars who maintain satisfactory academic progress and demonstrate exemplary commitment to the program in the first three years may also be eligible for an additional $3,000 at the end of their junior year to apply toward a study abroad experience.
The program begins with a month-long Summer Success Academy on the MSU campus that boosts college-level math, writing and critical thinking skills and equips students with effective learning strategies for the coming academic year. There is also a heavy focus on leadership training and career planning.
To be accepted as a Hilleman Scholar, students must commit to work at their education beyond ordinary expectations and help future scholars that come after them. All scholars are expected to graduate in four years.
Born on a farm near Miles City in 1919, Hilleman’s extraordinary life started with humble beginnings, McGarity said. In fact, his early days were marked by tragedy: His twin sister died during childbirth and his mother died two days later. He was raised by an aunt and uncle on the family farm, and as a child he was expected to work hard and contribute to the family.
Hilleman had been planning to accept a coveted career-track job at a J.C. Penney store in Miles City when his older brother told him that Montana State College — now MSU — offered scholarships. Hilleman applied, won a scholarship and enrolled.
After graduating from Montana State at the top of his class, he went on to do graduate work at the University of Chicago, where he eventually helped develop a treatment for chlamydia by discovering it was a bacteria and not a virus. Over the next 43 years, Hilleman became the world’s leading vaccinologist, developing more than 40 important vaccines for human and animal health. Among them are vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia. Hilleman also figured out how to combine the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines into a single dose in what is now commonly known as the MMR vaccine. Hilleman also gave the world a more complete understanding of the ways different strains of the flu virus change from year to year. The need for an annual seasonal flu vaccine is due to these ongoing and subtle changes, which Hilleman articulated.
When Hilleman died in 2005, scientists quoted in his New York Times obituary credited him with probably saving more lives than any other person in the
“More than 70 years ago, a farm kid from Miles City changed the direction of his life thanks to a scholarship to MSU,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “In so doing, he also changed the direction of the world, saving hundreds of millions of lives along the way.
“The Hilleman Scholars Program honors the legacy of Maurice Hilleman and the potential of the sons and daughters of Montana through this scholarship,” Cruzado continued. “Thanks to the vision and generosity of our donors, MSU will help our Hilleman Scholars be the next ones to change the world.”
Fundraising efforts for the Hilleman Scholars Program will continue, according to McGarity.
“The way to sustain this program is through endowed gifts,” McGarity said. “This first endowment is just the beginning.”