Education

Fostering the next generation of scientific leaders is a key part of Merck’s overall commitment to science.

Merck has a long history of promoting science education at the precollege, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels, and we have provided long-term support for programs that expand training capacity in the biomedical and health sciences. Our support continues through public-private partnerships with local, regional and national organizations that are committed to evidence-based approaches to learning.

In 2012, Merck completed a strategic review of its giving history and program portfolio, including its participation in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. As a result of this review, the Merck Foundation has narrowed its focus in STEM education to support efforts that enhance the quality of STEM education at the graduate and post-graduate levels, and that contribute to advancing women and minorities in the sciences. In 2013, the Foundation developed transition plans to phase down its K–12 science education programs and identify new partnerships aligned with these strategic priorities.

Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE)

The Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) was established in 1993 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving K–12 science education through teacher and program development.

MISE collaborates with teachers, school administrators and parents to improve science education in the classroom and to build consensus around the urgency for reform. The Merck Foundation has provided more than $50 million to support MISE since its inception. MISE has become a model for how corporations can support the nation’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education objectives and make a lasting difference in education reform by focusing on the specific goals of:

  • Developing and delivering research-based professional-development opportunities to enhance teachers’ knowledge and skills
  • Providing access to high-quality curriculum materials and resources
  • Building communities of teachers and administrators that are committed to strengthening science teaching and learning within and across schools and school districts
  • Promoting local, state and national policies that support effective science education

The work is guided by a vision of science education in which inquiry is an integral and regular part of the learning experience for all students. Inquiry-based teaching and learning imitate the thinking and practices of scientists and help students explore and understand the natural world. The MISE approach to instructional reform rests on the premise that when students are engaged in legitimate inquiry, they develop a greater interest in and deeper understanding of science than is possible through more conventional instructional approaches. MISE also takes a long-term, systemic approach to science education reform, which focuses primarily on professional development to enhance the knowledge and skills of educators. MISE works in partnership with the New Jersey school districts of Elizabeth, Hillside, Linden, Newark (the state’s largest school district) and Rahway, and the Pennsylvania district of North Penn.

MISE Transition

The Merck Foundation has shifted its focus within STEM education to address pressing needs at the graduate and post-graduate levels. Because of this change in focus, the Foundation is phasing down its support of MISE in grades K–12 by October 2014. The Foundation, in collaboration with MISE, has developed a transition plan to ensure that the work of MISE will continue with its partner school districts during this transition period. Through the summer of 2014, MISE will fulfill its commitments, including the completion of its signature professional development program, the Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction, and the continuation of the Peer Teacher Workshops. In addition, MISE is developing a suite of tools that will draw on 20 years of professional development experience. These tools will be disseminated to its partners, as well as to the K–12 science education field at large, to advance continuous improvement in the teaching of science.

Key MISE Programs

The Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction is a three-year professional-development program through which teachers, principals and district administrators are able to work in school- and district-based teams to deepen their understanding of the fundamentals of leadership and strong science instruction in classrooms. The program was launched in August 2008, with 380 educators currently participating.

The Peer Teacher Workshop is a weeklong professional-development program focused on building teachers’ capacity to engage in inquiry-based science instruction. During the past 18 years, MISE has offered close to 400 workshops attended by more than 5,000 educators.

The Peer Teacher Workshop program has served as a model for professional development in Thailand. Known there as UPGRADE, this program is in its fourth year of implementation. Although MISE is no longer directly involved, local agencies have taken the lead and expanded the program. UPGRADE is active in 280 schools in seven provinces, with 429 Thai educators qualified as teacher trainers. The legacy of the work of MISE is most apparent in the 40 master science and mathematics teachers from IN-STEP (Inquiry-based Science and Technology Education Program), who are now key to the development and implementation of UPGRADE, often serving as mentors to the teacher trainers. To date, approximately 50,000 students have received science instruction from an UPGRADE teacher.

The MISE partner IN-STEP activity also has influenced other STEM-education projects in Thailand. In particular, the TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) Project, developed by a MISE partner organization, integrates information and computer technology into curriculum through effective teaching strategies. Most of the strategies used in the TEL curriculum were derived from IN-STEP. Five of the 12 TEL Project master teachers are also IN-STEP master teachers.

For more information, visit MISE.

Evaluation of MISE Impact

MISE has had a significant impact on the teaching and learning of science in its partner school districts, according to research performed over a 20-year period by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI), and Westat.

The most recent reports from Westat focused on the impact of MISE’s work on science instructional practices and the ways in which schools and districts support science instruction. These findings suggest that an increased number of teachers and principals know and appreciate the practices shown by research to be effective. Teachers reported being prepared to use these practices and to collaborate with their peers to do so. Teachers also reported that they had access to the materials and equipment they needed to teach science.

Additionally, principals reported an increased appreciation of various instructional approaches for building students’ understanding of science as a process. Because principals are the instructional leaders of schools, their understanding is crucial to supporting an effective science program.

Public Policy

While MISE has concentrated its efforts in local school districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it has also sought to have a broader impact on state and national education reform through its public policy and stakeholder efforts.

MISE played a leadership role in the 2009 revision of the current N.J. Core Curriculum Content Standards in Science. These standards continue to guide the planning and instruction for K–12 teachers throughout the state.

MISE has played a significant role in the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards, the new national standards in science instruction. MISE participated as a reviewer of the 2012 National Academy of Science publication A Framework for K–12 Science Education, which served as a foundation for the standards. MISE staff also provided feedback to the state of New Jersey as official reviewers of the standards, providing support for its status as the lead state in creating and implementing the new standards.

Currently, MISE is providing support to the National Research Council (NRC) as it finalizes its study of effective professional development for teachers. The report will be published in the fall of 2014. Previous NRC studies have compiled and provided insight into research that has had a significant effect on schools and organizations nationwide, including MISE.

Other K–12 Programs

Girls Inc. Eureka Expansion Program

With a two-year (2012–2013), $365,000 grant from the Merck Foundation, Girls, Incorporated, implemented the Eureka program in Memphis, Tennessee. This program engaged young women in hands-on STEM educational experiences on a college campus over the course of their middle- and high-school academic experience. The grant served as a catalyst for additional national and local investment, making it possible to expand Eureka from four to 10 communities over the grant period. The partnership leverages the participation of Merck employees by serving as guest speakers, facilitating experiments, providing tours of Merck facilities and serving as informal mentors. Following two years of participation in the Eureka program, over 85 percent of Eureka participants expressed a desire to attend a four-year college and more than 80 percent of participants reported a more favorable view of math and science.

Liberty Science Center’s Young Learner Lab

National science leaders note that young children need opportunities to explore science by participating in enriching programs that help develop literacy skills. The Young Learner Lab sessions at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, designed for children between the ages of 3 and 8, provide developmentally appropriate learning sessions on such topics as elementary geology, simple machines, local flora and fauna, engineering and architecture. Through Young Learner Lab sessions, children can develop early theories about scientific concepts that may stimulate their imaginative talk and play. Over time, children are able to reflect on their theories by evaluating evidence and constructing new theories. In 2013, Liberty Science Center offered 105 Young Learner Lab workshops, reaching 1,383 students and 323 adults. Liberty Science Center engaged the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies, Rutgers-Newark (the Cornwall Center), to assess the immediate and long-term impact of the program on the teachers and their students. Initial results from this assessment are expected in the fall of 2014.

Rutgers University Future Scholars Program

The Merck Foundation committed $750,000 over five years (2008–2012) to support the Rutgers University Future Scholars (RFS) program. This program is designed to address the critical educational needs of promising but underserved students in New Jersey, by identifying at-risk, low-income and first-generation students before they enter the eighth grade. Merck’s investment in the RFS program served as a catalyst for the university’s acquiring additional funding from corporate, private and family foundations, thus ensuring the sustainability of the program.

Every summer since 2008, the program has selected 200 rising eighth-graders—50 each from New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden public schools—based on their financial need, academic records, teacher recommendations and personal statements. Selection jump-starts long-term support that includes five years of “pre-college” advising, instruction, tutoring, mentoring, on-campus summer activities and winter seminars with Rutgers faculty. Since 2008, 1,200 students have received support through the RFS program.

Nearly 100 percent of RFS participants have been retained for each cohort, excluding those who have moved out of state. Data from the first cohort of RFS show that 97 percent of the group graduated high school in June 2013. This figure exceeds the high school graduation rate, which is as low as 57 percent in some RFS districts, and the 86 percent average graduation rate across the state of New Jersey. Ninety­-six percent of the class of 2017 (i.e., 99 percent of those who graduated) matriculated at post-secondary institutions in the fall of 2013, and 60 percent of those who graduated are currently enrolled at Rutgers University.

National Academy of Sciences

The Merck Foundation awarded a three-year (2012–2014), $1 million grant to the National Academy of Sciences to support a consensus study titled Strengthening K–12 Science Education through a Teacher Learning Continuum. The purpose of this study is to bring together experts who will review and synthesize available research on how to provide coherent support for elementary, middle and high school teachers across their careers. An expert committee will consider existing programs for induction and professional development. The committee also will outline a coherent professional-growth continuum for science teachers that is integrated with and supported by the school, district and state-level contexts in which teachers work. The final report will be published in 2014.

University of Colorado Foundation

The Merck Foundation awarded a three-year (2011–2013), $900,000 grant to the University of Colorado Foundation to support a transformative professional-development program for teachers—Xsci Extraordinary Educator Experiences—through experiential learning.

The Foundation’s grant supports three primary activities: (1) The XSci Africa Science Learning Journey, in which two cohorts of urban, K–12 educators participate (one group from Colorado and the other from Michigan). On the journey, the teachers climb Mount Kilimanjaro (studying volcanology and ecosystem variation), experience the wilds of the Serengeti (studying biodiversity), and visit AIDS orphanages and guest-teach in local schools (studying health and culture in Tanzania). Additionally, the teachers each make personal documentary videos of their experiences, which serve as both a rich data source for the grant’s research component and a powerful tool for making science exciting and relevant to their students; (2) Research that examines the effects of these experiences on teachers’ understanding of how they learn science and consequently the way those new insights influence their science teaching; and (3) the XSTEM conference—a new national gathering that explores and promotes a higher level of collaboration and support around experiential STEM learning theory and practice in both formal and informal education.

The 2013 XSci Africa cohort successfully completed its journey to Tanzania, which, through a partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute, also included work with the Gombe Stream chimpanzee research station. The educators also completed their Teacher Documentaries and showed them at a film festival that was open to the public. XSci researchers have begun to examine the effects of the experience on the teachers and their work in classrooms. All teacher cohorts are now interacting through the project’s online community of practice, www.xsciafrica.com. It is on this website that teachers can share stories, resources, journals, videos, curricula and classroom ideas. Planning for the X2014 STEM conference is well under way, in collaboration with newly established partners, REI Education, Lego® and the STEMxTM national network (www.stemx.us). This collaboration now includes 17 U.S. states working to improve STEM education.

The Alliance/Merck Ciencia (Science) Hispanic Scholars Program is a pioneering partnership with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (the Alliance) dedicated to supporting a new generation of Hispanic scientists.

Providing scholarship, summer research experiences, and the support of an extraordinary network of mentors, the effort is expanding Hispanic student access to higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Launched in 2008 with a $4 million commitment from the Merck Foundation, Ciencia is ensuring that Hispanic students with promise for study in the STEM fields are receiving the support they need to realize their dreams.

Every year, a Cohort of 10 Ciencia Scholars are selected from high schools in Brownsville, Texas; Elizabeth, New Jersey; and Los Angeles, California. Selected Scholars receive support of up to $20,000 in scholarships over their four years of college, up to $22,500 to support summer research opportunities, and the mentors from the Alliance Ciencia network. A total of 50 Ciencia Scholars have been supported since the inception of the program. During 2013, the first class of Ciencia Scholars graduated and became the first group of Ciencia alumni, most of whom are pursuing advanced degree programs.

Ciencia Scholars are connected by online networks and attend an annual symposium conducted in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), among other partners. The symposium offers the scholars the opportunity to learn new skills, share their research and support each other’s personal and professional paths.

The NAHH/Merck partnership also awards 25 scholarships each year to Hispanic college students with a declared STEM major. The Ciencia National Award provided a one-time, $2,000 scholarship to help students complete their education. To date, a total of 125 Ciencia National Awards have been supported. By preparing a new generation of scientists, Ciencia is helping secure a brighter future not only for these students, but for our nation and world.

The table below represents the demographic profile of the Ciencia program award recipients:

The Alliance is collaborating with Harvard University to conduct an external evaluation to assess the impact of the Ciencia program. Data sources include surveys, focus groups and interviews with leaders of partner organizations, the Ciencia Scholars and the program manager. The results of the program evaluation will be available in the autumn of 2014.

For more information on the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, click here. For more information on the Alliance/Merck Ciencia Hispanic Scholars Program, click here.

African Americans currently hold fewer than 3.2 percent of all Ph.D.s in the U.S. in the biological sciences and chemistry.

To help address this disparity, Merck joined with UNCF in 1995 to establish the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative (UMSI). This groundbreaking program seeks to support the training and development of African American research scientists in the biological, chemical and engineering fields, and in so doing, to enhance economic competitiveness in the United States. Each year, the UMSI provides scholarship and fellowship support to 37 outstanding African American students who are pursuing studies and careers in the biological and chemical sciences. Since its inception, Merck and the Merck Foundation have committed a total of $47 million to supporting the UMSI program.

UNCF/Merck Science Initiative awards are made at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. The initiative is aimed at key transition points in education: undergraduate students entering their final academic year, graduate students who are midway through their dissertation research and postgraduate students entering their postdoctoral training. To date, Merck has awarded a total of 700 fellowships.

Awardees are selected through a national competition open to all eligible students at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The awards provide financial support, hands-on training, mentoring relationships and institutional support to help the UMSI Fellows devote their attention to education. Undergraduate scholars also may receive paid summer internships at Merck.

Mentoring and Networking with Past Fellows

A key component of the UMSI program is the mentoring that UMSI Fellows receive from Merck scientists and external scientists working in the life and physical sciences. Mentors share their expertise, and career advisers and colleagues help to ensure that the Fellows move seamlessly from one educational level to the next.

Each year, the program also invites all current awardees to participate in Fellows Day. This event brings together Merck scientists and Fellows to share their research through scientific symposiums and poster sessions.

Outputs of the UMSI Program

Since its inception, the UMSI program has continued to support the career development of African American students and postdoctoral fellows pursuing careers in the biomedical sciences. Through the program’s support, UMSI Fellows are conducting research at some of the world’s leading research institutions while developing peer-to-peer and professional networks.

UNCF is currently constructing a comprehensive survey of UMSI Fellows from 2011 to the present. The survey will explore the quality of their fellowship experience, including the mentorship, peer-to-peer networking, the quality of the laboratory research experience and their ability to navigate the career development ladder. Data collection will begin in June 2014.

Last Updated August 1, 2014