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Merck Institute for Science Education

Key Features

The Merck Institute for Science Education was created in 1992 to coordinate and focus the science education reform efforts of Merck & Co., Inc. Its mission is to improve the quality of science education during the formative years of kindergarten through eight grade. Merck has made a minimum 10-year commitment of funding to the Institute through the Merck Company Foundation.

In the early years of operation, the Institute is working in partnership with four public school districts near Merck sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The activities of the institute fall within four primary program areas:

  • Professional development and mentoring of teachers
  • Reform of teacher education
  • Policy support for systemic change

Establishment and maintenance of science materials Resource Centers. All of these efforts are supported by a corps of Merck employee volunteers. To measure the impact of this initiative, Merck has contracted with the Consortium of Policy Research in Education (CPRE) at the University of Pennsylvania to undertake a long-term study of its Partnership programs.

Becoming Involved

For administrators of corporate enterprises with many technical professionals as employees, a study of the Merck Institute illuminates the possibilities as well as the challenges of such an enterprise.

For scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals who want to contribute to the improvement of science education in their own or nearby schools, the Merck Institute illustrates a number of valuable roles and, for some of them, the importance of enlisting support from their corporate employer.

For school districts in areas with such corporate enterprises, the Merck Institute illustrates a way that a true partnership between one or more school districts and a corporate enterprise can further systemic reform of science education, and can illuminate the roles the different partners can play.



  • The primary goal of the Merck Institute for Science Education is to provide all children with strong, inquiry-centered instruction that meets the emerging national standards in science, thereby raising levels of student performance. It seeks to achieve this goal through a systemic approach: by building local capacity, by enhancing the knowledge and skills of the teaching staff, by introducing effective curricula and instructional materials, by building systems of support for instructional improvement, and by aligning policy around this vision of science education.
    • A secondary goal is to demonstrate the efficacy of this approach, based on a partnership initiative, so that other corporations may emulate it.

    Strategy and Scope of Partnerships. The Merck Institute has formed a partnership with four school districts, three in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania, in which Merck has major operations. The institute's focus is grades K-8. Within the Partnership, Merck promotes systemic reform and attempts to build the districts' capacity for effecting and sustaining meaningful change. The institute provides professional development programs, technical support, and instructional materials through its New Jersey and Pennsylvania Resource Center. The Merck Institute and its four partner school districts were awarded a five-year $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Local Systemic Change program in 1996. In addition, it coordinates the work of Merck employee volunteers in the local schools.


    Curriculum and Instructional Materials. The Merck Institute helped its partner school districts move toward a standards-based curriculum with the adoption of kit-based inquiry-centered science modules, mostly from National Science Foundation-funded projects (Science and Technology for Children, Full Option Science System, and Insights). To do this, the Institute established an extensive Resource Center in Rahway, New Jersey from which it supplies modules and other materials for piloting, trade books and activity guides linked to curriculum units, and equipment for classroom use, including the portable planetarium STARLAB. In addition to teachers and science supervisors, Merck employee volunteers use the Resource Center in conjunction with their school-related activities. A satellite Resource Center has recently been established at The Merck site in West Point, Pennsylvania, near The North Penn School District.  


    Materials Support. The four districts vary in size and structure. Of the four, two have established their own district-based materials support centers; one maintains separate stock within each school building, where the kits and materials are refurbished; and one combines aspects of these two systems.


    Professional Development. The Merck Institute and its partner school districts are now committed to a minimum 6-year program of professional development, which began 1995. Its centerpiece is the Leader Teacher Institute, a program involving teams of teachers and administrators in intensive summer workshops and school-year activities over a three-year period. As a result of the program, participants increase their content knowledge and their ability to design and implement inquiry-centered instruction. On a yearly basis, additional workshops are offered to all K-8 teachers in the Partnership. These one-week Peer Teacher Workshops enhance teacher's ability to use science modules, mathematical materials, and supporting technology. As part of their professional development, teachers also serve on Assessment Investigation Teams, which have been established in each partner district to study and develop assessment instruments more closely aligned with inquiry-centered instruction.


    Technical Professionals and Other Employees as Volunteers. The Merck Institute recruits volunteer scientists, engineers, and other Merck employees who are trained by the Institute and then supported in their roles as resources for teachers and role models for students. Many volunteers work in school-based teams. The volunteer corps directly supports teachers, works with students, builds community support, and works to change policy within the districts.


    Communications. To improve communications between teachers, volunteers, and school personnel, the Merck Institute has provided laptop computers having access to an e-mail account to all Leader Teachers within the Partnership.


    Penn-Merck Collaborative. In addition to its four-district Partnership, the Merck Institute is involved in several other education reform initiatives, including the Penn-Merck Collaborative in Philadelphia. Through the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation, the Penn-Merck Collaborative for the Enhancement of Science Education brings together the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of Veterinary Medicine; the Merck Institute for Science Education; and the School District of Philadelphia, to enhance the teaching and learning of science in Philadelphia elementary schools. The effort is designed to increase teachers' knowledge of science, help them implement learning strategies that engage children in science, and strengthen science learning by integrating the science and language arts curricula. Its primary focus is on teachers in the 25 elementary schools in the District's southwest region.


    Teacher Education. The Merck Fellows Program in conjunction with Montclair State University (NJ) and Beaver College (PA) supports and encourages future science and mathematics teachers. The program provides an opportunity for the Fellows to partner with Leader Teachers in their classrooms, attend the three-week Leader Teacher Institute, and contribute to the development and teaching of a curriculum unit during a second classroom field placement.


    Spreading the Merck Model to Other Companies. Merck Institute leadership is promoting the dissemination of its model programs through distribution of comprehensive yearly reports, prepared by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) at the University of Pennsylvania, as part of CPRE's long-term evaluation of Institute programs. In 1994, the Institute co-sponsored, with The National Science Resources Center, a national conference at Merck's corporate headquarters on "Corporate America's Impact on Elementary Science Education." The Institute works with national and statewide organizations, including The National Research Council's Academy Industry Program, The Triangle Coalition, The New Jersey Statewide Systemic Initiative, The New Jersey Business/Industry/Science Education Consortium, the New Jersey Association of Partners in Education, and the Somerset/Hunterdon Business Education Partnership.

    Contact. A variety of information including the full CORE report (120 pages), its executive summary (16 pages), and a videotape of the Leader Teacher Institute (12 min.) is available from the Merck Institute for Science Education, P.O. Box 2000 (RY60-215), Rahway, NJ 07065; 908-594-3443; FAX: 908-594-3977; E-mail:

    History and Organizational Information. For more details about the history and organization of the Merck Institute, click Detail button below.


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