PEARL – Daniel Billiot has helped families see the end of life with compassion and dignity. Thanks to a helping hand from Hinds Community College, he’s on his way to helping people build stronger, better lives in the first place.
“I’ve seen it all in the mortuary business, everything from different types of cancers to hereditary diseases,” said Billiot, 34, general manager of Greater Jackson Mortuary Services. He’s brushing up on organic chemistry this semester, taking night classes at the Rankin Campus to prepare for a master’s in biomedical research from UMMC.
“At a certain point, I thought to myself that maybe if I hit the books hard enough, I can prevent some of this and help bring about a better quality of life for people,” Billiot said. “Maybe not be a groundbreaking surgeon and cure all diseases, but just to do something different than just preserve dead tissue.”
Billiot credits Hinds with playing a role in a long personal journey to his current successes. A native of suburban New Orleans and father of two sons, Billiot came to central Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and built a career from the ground up.
“Having my adult years here in Mississippi has been a blessing,” he said. “It put me in a position where I had to become a man. I was a young knucklehead, dropped out of school in the ninth grade when my mother passed away. I did manual labor for a while, then Katrina happened. But, I’ve grown up.”
He took organic chemistry at Hinds three years ago, but is taking it again to improve his confidence for the one-year master’s program at UMMC after having earned a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory research from UMMC in 2015. His choice of Hinds as a place to bone up on chemistry is due to chemistry of another kind – mainly, the personal touch between he and his instructors.
“As a working adult, Daniel was able to connect science topics to real life,” said Dr. Carl Dewitt, physics instructor and Physical Sciences Department Chair at the Rankin Campus. “Seeing students like Daniel make progress towards a degree in the medical field helps me see the impact we are making on our community.”
The quality instruction he’s received just from his self-enrichment experience at Hinds has him adding to his goal list in case med school doesn’t work out. He said applications to medical school can sometimes exceed 1,000 at a time – when there’s room for just 100. The program he’s in at UMMC are for those who have applied to medical school at least once but didn’t have a strong enough application to be accepted, he said.
“I’m leaning toward being an ER doctor, but that residency is tough,” he said. “I believe I have the skill set to manage it.”
It’s a heady plan, but Billiot’s self-confidence is special indeed.
“Being around Dr. Dewitt and Dr. Cory Toyota at night reminds me the classroom is where I need to be if I don’t make it into medical school,” he said. “If I can’t make it, then I want to get my Ph.D in chemistry and start teaching.”