African Americans currently hold fewer than 3.2 percent of PhDs in biological sciences and chemistry. To help address this imbalance, Merck joined with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in 1995 to establish the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative.
This groundbreaking program seeks to expand the pool of world-class African American biomedical scientists and, in so doing, to enhance economic competitiveness in the United States. Each year, the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative provides scholarship and fellowship support to 37 outstanding African American students who are pursuing studies and careers in the biological and chemical sciences.
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 UNCF/Merck Fellows devote their attention to education. Undergraduate scholars also receive paid internships for two summers at Merck Research Laboratories, where Merck scientists volunteer to mentor all Fellows.
UNCF/Merck Science Initiative was launched with a $20 million grant from The Merck Company Foundation. In 2005, the Foundation renewed its commitment to UNCF with a five-year, $13 million grant, and in 2011, it pledged another $14 million to UNCF over five years. The initiative provides Merck with an opportunity to recruit from a more diverse pool of postdoctoral fellows in support of the company's diversity workforce goals and to support one of our three giving priorities.
Merck itself has provided $3 million to support a summer internship program for undergraduate Fellows since 1995.
For this program, Merck is responsible for funding stewardship; program administration; Fellow selection by three committees of Merck scientists; mentor selection and training; implementation of the summer internships for undergraduates; funding and implementation of Fellows Day; and program assessment.
Mentoring is a key program component, with mentors sharing their expertise, and with career advisers and colleagues helping to ensure that the Fellows move seamlessly from one educational level to the next. Merck scientists also benefit from their experience as mentors, with many remaining in contact with Fellows after the fellowship is completed.
UNCF is responsible for developing and maintaining content for the online program application; disseminating the application to all four-year colleges and universities; managing the application process; and program assessment. Once selections are made, the UNCF notifies awardees and manages all aspects of award confirmation and distribution. The UNCF is the frontline manager of the relationship with the Fellows.
The program also brings all current awardees together annually for three days of scientific symposiums and poster sessions, as well as activities centered on relationship building and networking with one another and with scientists at Merck.
UNCF/Merck Science Initiative awards are made at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels, and administered by UNCF. 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.