Chemical engineering scholarship comes full circle, catalyzing philanthropy and student success

Published: Oct 30, 2019 11:07 AM

By Lauren Winton

When talking with students who received the McMillan Family Scholarship this fall 2019 semester, two phrases ring true: “I wouldn’t be at Auburn without scholarship support,” and “I wouldn’t be in chemical engineering without the McMillan Family Scholarship.”

This year’s group of McMillan Family Endowed Scholarship awardees are not the first, nor will they be the last, to find themselves receiving financial support to pursue their educational aspirations. They are the continuation of a long legacy of scholarship recipients who have been touched by philanthropy, particularly the support of Joe McMillan, ’58 chemical engineering, and his wife Billie Carole McMillan.

Just ask Trent Williams, ’03 chemical engineering, a former recipient of the McMillan Family scholarship.

Williams, who is a manager for Permian Strategy at ExxonMobil, received the scholarship when he was an undergraduate student studying chemical engineering.  

“When I was thinking about where I wanted to go to college, Auburn University was high on my list,” Williams said. “I applied to several other schools, as well. I think it was always a strong candidate, but what pulled me to Auburn was the scholarship support.”

Like most chemical engineers, Williams knew his educational experience was not going to be without work, hard work.

“Chemical engineering suited what I liked to do in terms of math, science and problem solving. I never doubted that I wanted to go into engineering. Knowing [Joe] McMillan was also a chemical engineer, and to see how he could endow a scholarship that was such a great help to me… I knew he had been successful and was choosing to share it in a substantial way,” Williams said. “His scholarship planted a seed within me that when I could do the same thing, I wanted to.”

And so, after graduating and moving on to a successful career at Exxon, Williams did the same thing as McMillan. He established an endowed scholarship in chemical engineering.

Now, the Trent Williams Scholarship has gone on to impact current chemical engineering students, such as Christopher DeRocher.

“Everyone said chemical engineering is hard. I think that’s what attracted me to it,” DeRocher said. “When I came and toured Auburn, I knew I wanted to go here. But without scholarships, I wouldn’t be here. And without the Trent Williams Endowed Scholarship, I wouldn’t be in chemical engineering.”

DeRocher echoes his classmates’ sentiments, inspired by scholarships and the individuals who established them. The lynchpin of this scholarship legacy – Joe McMillan. Both Joe and his wife Billie Carole McMillan have served Auburn University through their time, talent and unwavering support. And through the McMillan Family Endowed Scholarship, they have inspired generations of students and graduates to follow in their footsteps.

“Why did I choose to give back to Auburn? That’s easy,” McMillan said. “Without Auburn, I would have never been successful at my job. So, I owe it all to Auburn. This scholarship is designed to assist Auburn in recruiting the outstanding students the university needs to continue to be the leading university it has become.”

The scholarship certainly has helped attract leading, talented students. Philanthropic support such as McMillan’s has enabled the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering to rise to No. 29 in the U.S. News & World Report among public engineering institutions. And that figure is still rising.

“It has become quite clear that in today’s world, universities are not going to receive taxpayer support to operate outstanding programs,” McMillan said. “If we want to be above and beyond average, it is going to take major private support to be the best. We all have an obligation to make the world a better place.”

Through his generosity, McMillan has made the world a better place for those who receive tutoring from the Billie Carole McMillan Engineering Tutoring Scholars, students who spend time in the renovated space in Ross Hall made possible by Joe and Billie Carole, and those talented chemical engineers who receive the McMillan Family Scholarship. Those students, such as Trent Williams, are touched by philanthropy, and they continue on the tradition of making the world a better place, one gift at a time.

To learn more about how to support the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, contact the Office of Development by visiting

Media Contact: Lauren Winton,, 334.844.2304
Christopher DeRocher, Olivia Wilson and Matthew Do

Christopher DeRocher, Olivia Wilson and Matthew Do

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