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2023 Three Forks graduate selected as Hilleman Scholar

From MSU News Service

Fifty-three high school graduates from across Montana have been selected for their effort and potential as the eighth class of Montana State University's Hilleman Scholars Program, which is named after Maurice Hilleman, one of the state's most influential native sons and an MSU graduate. This year's class includes 2023 Three Forks High School Graduate Alexander Kunesh.

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, MSU 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.

At a Thursday luncheon honoring the new class of Hilleman Scholars, MSU President Waded Cruzado noted that the MSU Hilleman Scholars Program was designed to further the university's land grant mission, as well as the legacy of one of its most notable alumni.

"Maurice Hilleman thought that being from small place like Miles City and a chicken farm was never a detriment – it was a benefit," she said. "What we strive to do as the land grant university for the state of Montana is to educate its sons and daughters, give them a high bar and to say, 'You can do it,' just as Maurice did."

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.

"We are so proud to host 53 students from communities across Montana," said Carina Beck, vice provost of the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success at MSU. "They are entrusting MSU and the Hilleman Scholars Program to advance their futures, and we couldn't be prouder to support their educational journey."

Beck added, "This program would not exist without the support of donors and investors. Their generosity helps ensure Dr. Hilleman's legacy continues through the aspirations of our Hilleman scholars. As we celebrate our eighth cohort's arrival to campus, we are humbled by the support we've received."

Each year, the new Hilleman Scholars complete a month-long Summer Success Academy on the MSU campus. The intensive 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.

Academic support continues for Hilleman Scholars throughout their years at MSU, including tutoring, mentoring, advising and more. By their third year, the scholars are expected to pass this support on by serving as mentors and tutors to new Hilleman Scholars.

During the school year, Hilleman Scholars must engage in 10 hours per week of activities designed to prepare them to be a successful student, intern or employee.

The focus of these experiences shifts each year as the students progress through college.

This year's group of 53 Hilleman Scholars come from 29 communities across Montana, including many small towns. The scholars are listed below by name and hometown:

• Abby Anderson, Columbus

• Mica Ashcraft, Great Falls

• Carsten Bahnson, Bozeman

• Trevor Bailey, Hamilton

• Cassidy Bailey, Billings

• Hadley Barbie, Cut Bank

• Delaney Bauwens, Edgar

• Samuel Buckner, Manhattan

• Bradley Cornett, Great Falls

• Mariah Creason, Livingston

• Mary Cunningham, Fort Peck

• Nashantee Deputee, Billings

• Phoenix Eck, Dillon

• Rebecca Edwards, Browning

• Francis Falconer, Bozeman

• Jerome Fourstar, Wolf Point

• Xavier Gehlen, Hamilton

• Ximena Gonzalez Portales, Billings

• Stella Hansen, Missoula

• Jenny Harris, Joliet

• Laney Haugum, Bozeman

• Cadence Hess, Park City

• Tessa Howard, Bozeman

• Julia Huls, Hamilton

• Killian Humbert, Clancy

• Austin Johnson, Billings

• Theodore Johnson, Missoula

• Lilian Jones, Sidney

• Daniel Kadrmas, Dillon

• Morgan Kaufman, Helena

• Chase Klemundt, Missoula

• Anneke Kuchenbrod, Missoula

• Alexander Kunesh, Three Forks

• Madeleine MacDonald, Belgrade

• Gavin Mayo, Whitefish

• Aidan Maze, Helena

• Mia Mercado, Billings

• Grace Mercado, Seeley Lake

• Erin Mestes, Lewistown

• Kylee Metcalf, Manhattan

• Hayden MohrMead, Columbia Falls

• Draegon Mytton, Columbus

• Kyler Rammelt, Lewistown

• Hakyla Riggs, Proctor

• Chloe Romans, Great Falls

• Lesl Schoenberg, Gallatin Gateway

• Courage Smith, Missoula

• Kaeleigh Starkey, Missoula

• Adiah Stewart, Belgrade

• Jaylyn Thaut, Lavina

• Angelina Toineeta, Lodge Grass

• Treyson Tuss, Great Falls

• Jordyn Tyree, Manhattan

More information about the Hilleman Scholars Program is available on the program's website: