Single mom, department employee endows scholarship in radiological health engineering

Photo of the Billiter FamilyA single mom and program coordinator in the Department of Nuclear Engineering proves you don't have to be a millionaire to give back to Texas A&M.

Marna Billiter, a program coordinator in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, is proving that you don't have to be a millionaire to give back to support Texas A&M University. This summer, she committed to fund an endowed scholarship for students pursuing a degree in radiological health engineering.

Billiter graduated with a degree in sociology in 1991 and shortly after took a job with the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. After living abroad for nine years, starting a family and working as a stay-at-home mom, Billiter and her children returned to Texas. She found her way back to Aggieland and into the Department of Nuclear Engineering.

"I always joke that I'm the department mom because I advise incoming freshmen," Billiter said. "When I see them, I ask how they're really doing. I ask if they're studying, finding personal time, eating healthy and sleeping. It's like a well-check. That's something faculty advisors don't always think to ask about when they're advising on academics, and I take a more holistic approach."

Billiter's interest in funding a scholarship began when she worked in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. She said she saw many students who needed help, and she realized that there wasn't enough funding for everyone to receive assistance.

"I saw how someone could make such a difference to a student, and I realized the donors aren't always people who are super well-off," Billiter said. "Creating a scholarship is an attainable goal for many people because even though an endowment requires $25,000, if you plan for it, you can conceivably do that on a lot of different types of salaries."

Billiter's scholarship serves as a tribute to her parents, Ed and Shirley Kissmann, because as a child they taught her the importance of giving back through their support of the family's church.

"I got my education from Texas A&M, and they're the ones who put me through school," Billiter said. "So I knew there was no better way to honor them than with this scholarship."

Recipients of the scholarship will be upperclassmen because they are more committed to their chosen major. The scholarship also targets students who have had to overcome personal challenges in order to attend college.

"I want to help the students who are not straight "A" students," Billiter said. "They're the ones who sometimes miss out on opportunities because they don't have perfect grades."

She also said she hopes that her scholarship recipients will want to follow her example and give back after they graduate and begin their careers.

When considering the effects her scholarship will have, Billiter smiled and added, "I really just want to set an example for my kids. I want them to understand how important it is to think of others, no matter what."