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BioE Senior Piaget Francois receives UNCF-Merck Science Initiative Scholarships and Fellowships in Biosciences

FAIRFAX, Va.  (July 16, 2012) ... The UNCF/Merck Science Initiative, a partnership of UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization, and Merck, a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well, today announced that it would award scholarships and fellowships to 37 African American students of biological science and engineering. Among this year's recipients is University of Pittsburgh student, Piaget Francois, a senior in the Swanson School of Engineering's Department of Bioengineering. In addition to building a pipeline of African American college students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative (UMSI) works to leverage the UNCF-Merck partnership and the talent of UNCF Merck Fellows to help support the pipeline of minority students by engaging and attracting them to STEM subjects as early as elementary school. 

"Now that I am about halfway through the internship, and have had a chance to meet and network with other Fellows, past and present, and some employees at Merck, I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity," Ms. Francois said. "I have been able to gain insight on working in industry, and I have been able to talk to a lot of people who have helped me to choose a path for my career development. The time I spent at Merck also allowed me to gain a wealth of hands-on research experience in the lab while working with a mentor, Dr. Anka Ehrhardt, who helped me to learn how to plan my own experiments.

"The opportunities afforded to UNCF/Merck Fellows are endless and I feel so privileged to be a part of a select group of high achieving students. 
This is definitely a worthwhile initiative, so I sincerely hope that more undergraduates from the University of Pittsburgh apply in the future."

In its seventeenth year, UMSI is a twenty-year partnership that has supported 627 scholarships and fellowships to promising undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral science students pursuing careers in biomedical research. UNCF Merck Fellows have attended 196 schools, some our nation's best private and public colleges and universities including ivy league schools like Princeton University, Yale University and Duke University; flagship universities like University of Georgia and University of California, Berkeley and UNCF Member Institutions like Xavier University, Claflin University and Morehouse College. The UNCF/Merck scholarships and fellowships provide the UMSI scientists and future scientists with financial support, hands-on training, close mentoring and networking relationships, and institutional support. Recipients are chosen through a competitive application process that selects candidates based on their academic achievements and potential in the fields of biomedical research and engineering. 

"Merck's investment in these promising students and scholars is a significant commitment to building a pipeline of African American students in biosciences and an investment in longer and better lives for millions of people not only in America but around the world," said Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., UNCF president and CEO. "Developing the next generation of researchers, professors, and science and math teachers will also enable our nation to compete in the global economy. I challenge this generation of African American scientists to mentor, advocate and help prepare the next generation of African American scientists, to ensure that younger students get the pre-college education they need to study science in college. It is critical to start introducing our students to science early and it is crucial for these students to have good science and math teachers in their classrooms." 

Additionally this year during UNCF/Merck Fellows Day, UMSI will celebrate an award to the undergraduate STEM program of UNCF member institution Xavier University with a $500,000 grant in conjunction with the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building, for a STEM Capacity Building Program. Over the next four years, Xavier University, the only recipient of this grant, will use the STEM Capacity Building Program to grow the number of students graduating with STEM degrees and pursuing research careers in the biological and chemical sciences. 

UMSI aims to increase the number of African American undergraduates studying in STEM disciplines. American undergraduate students tend to select natural science and engineering (NS&E) disciplines as their primary field of study at considerably lower rates than their counterparts in other countries, according to the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. According to the most recent data, only 16 percent of U.S. undergraduates graduate with an NS&E degree, compared to 24 percent of undergraduates in the European Union, 44 percent in China, and 37 percent in South Korea.

The same trend is reflected among students studying STEM as graduate students and postdoctoral scientists. 33 percent of all U.S. STEM doctoral students in U.S. universities, and 43 percent of the U.S.'s postdoctoral researchers in science, engineering, and health are foreign students. 

Merck and UNCF began UMSI in 1995 with a ten-year, $20 million grant from the Merck Company Foundation and Merck Research Laboratories. The project was extended in 2006 with an additional $13 million grant and again in 2011 with an additional investment of $13.3 million over five years.
"In the healthcare industry, innovation leads to the creation of new medicines and vaccines that save and improve people's lives." said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer, Merck. "Merck is proud of our longstanding partnership with the UNCF, which helps ensure that highly-talented African-American students can excel both in science and in addressing significant human health issues."

The 2012 UNCF/Merck Fellows receive awards ranging from $25,000 for undergraduate scholarship recipients to $92,000 for recipients of postdoctoral fellowships. In addition, the program's alumni have organized the Association of Underrepresented Minority Fellows to facilitate continued professional growth. This network allows UNCF/Merck Fellows to collaborate in academia, government and the private sector to leverage their wealth of scientific, technical and biomedical knowledge and experience. 

Support from the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative scholarships targets students entering their final undergraduate year, graduate students in their final two-to-three years of dissertation research, and postdoctoral Fellows continuing their research training. African American students in the life, physical and engineering sciences at American four-year colleges and universities are eligible to apply for the scholarship. In addition to scholarships and fellowships, the UNCF/Merck awards may include funding for the science departments at the colleges and universities they attend. Undergraduate Fellows receive summer research internships at Merck Research Laboratories, where each Fellow is paired with a Merck mentor who provides valuable research assistance, guidance and support. To learn more about the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative, visit http://umsi.uncf.org/ or follow Twitter at #UNCF&MRK.

About The UNCF/Merck Science Initiative
UMSI brings together UNCF, The Merck Company Foundation and Merck Global Diversity Inclusion to offer 37 annual awards to outstanding African American students and postdoctoral researchers:

15 undergraduate scholarships
12 graduate dissertation fellowships
10 postdoctoral research fellowships

Besides funds for tuition, room and board and fees, there's also institutional support through grants to the science departments of award recipients and research grants. And along with knowledge, you'll develop a career, with hands-on research training, mentoring relationships and networking and career advancement through the Association of UNCF/Merck Fellows.

African Americans hold less than three percent of PhDs in biology, chemistry and engineering today. Opportunities created by UMSI aim to increase the numbers of minority students in sciences and engineering. Thanks to UMSI, more than 500 students and scholars have found support, knowledge, careers and advancement.


Contact: Paul Kovach