Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Robinett Part of Inaugural Class of MSU's Hilleman Scholars Program


Photo provided.

Eliana Robinett graduated in 2016 and is starting a degree in graphic design this fall at Montana State University.

BOZEMAN  – Fifty-one Montana high school seniors from across the state have been selected for their effort and potential as the inaugural class of Montana State University's (MSU) Hilleman Scholars Program, named after one of the state's most influential, but least known, native sons. Recent Seeley-Swan High School graduate Eliana Robinett was among those chosen.

"This is unlike any large scholarship program we've had before," said MSU President Waded Cruzado. "We're looking for potential all across Montana in keeping with the life story of Maurice Hilleman."

Maurice 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 kid helped the household make ends meet by raising chickens.

Hilleman had been planning to go to work at a local department store in Miles City for a career when his brother told him that MSU – then Montana State College – offered scholarships. Hilleman applied, won a scholarship and graduated in 1941.

Over the course of 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 his vaccines have been given to more than 750 million people worldwide.

When Hilleman died in 2005, scientists 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 is inaugurating the Hilleman Scholars Program for Montana residents. 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.  

"While this scholarship provides them with assistance, it is not a full ride or a free ride. 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," Cruzado said.  

Robinett from Seeley Lake found out she was chosen for the program following graduation. In her application she wrote why Hilleman had inspired her.

"Maurice has inspired me to keep working for something I want to make my dreams come true," said Robinett who dreams of becoming a graphic designer after graduating from MSU.

Robinett was excited and nervous to leave Seeley Lake at the end of July for the month-long Summer Success Academy on the MSU campus beginning July 24.

The intensive program 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.

While Robinett said the program is exhausting, she has met quite a few new friends and said it has helped prepare her for college and given her confidence a boost.

The Hilleman Scholars come from more than 26 cities and towns across Montana that include many small towns in the state such as Circle, Chinook, Stanford, Valier, Conrad and Pinesdale.

Hilleman Scholars are eligible for up to $8,000 for their first year and $4,000/year for each year thereafter. Contingent upon satisfactory academic progress and exemplary commitment to the program in the first three years, scholars can also be eligible for an additional $3,000 at the end of their junior year to apply toward a study abroad experience. Scholars are expected to graduate in four years.

The scholarship website is:

Intensive academic support continues for MSU Hilleman Scholars throughout their college careers. Beyond access to some of the university's top faculty, this includes tutoring, mentoring, advising and more. By their third year, Hilleman Scholars are expected to pass this support on by serving as mentors and tutors to new students.

During the school year, Hilleman Scholars are required to engage in 10 hours per week of activities designed to prepare them on how to be a successful student, intern or employee. The focus of these experiences will shift each year as students progress through college.

"More than 70 years ago, a farm kid from Miles City changed the direction of his life thanks to a scholarship to MSU and in so doing changed the direction of the world, saving hundreds of millions of lives along the way," Cruzado said. "We want to honor the legacy of Maurice Hilleman and the potential of the sons and daughters of Montana through this scholarship. We want to help them be the next ones to change the world." 

Robinett said it was hard to leave home but is thankful for her mother Tracey Youbles' encouragement.

"My mom has inspired me to leave home and do something with my life," said Robinett. "Thank you Mom."


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