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Muhlenberg Goes Medical

Mules at Merck

By Jennifer M. Marangos


Some relationships are complicated and some can be summed up in a single word.

And, in this particular case, that word is “science.”

At least according to Jim Yergey ’70, who says that’s the reason so many Muhlenberg alumni, like himself, are attracted to careers with Merck & Co., Inc. The research-driven pharmaceutical products and services giant has facilities in 37 countries around the world and maintains its global headquarters in Whitehouse Station, N.J.

In all, 63 ’Berg alums and 14 ’Berg parents are employed by Merck and a good number of them, like Jim, were chemistry majors at Muhlenberg.

“There is an excellent scientific environment at Merck,” explains Yergey, who is director of drug metabolism, working out of Merck’s West Point site. “There are not a lot of industries or companies out there that have such a breadth of use of science.

“Merck uses everything from chemical engineers to biologists of every flavor, chemists of every flavor. There is a broad base of scientific need,” he says.

Yergey joined Merck in 1989 and started his Merck career at the company’s Montreal facility.

“I met someone from Merck at a scientific conference who was very excited about what Merck was doing in terms of the discovery of new drugs,” recalls Jim, who was working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the time. “He invited me to do a seminar (at Merck). I was interested in a career move and they were doing some interesting things. I have been asthmatic since I was a teenager and when I joined Merck, the first project I was involved in was the discovery of the asthma drug Singulair.”

Though the company’s work is certainly science-based, it does attract students from other disciplines as well – including Jim Yergey’s wife, Naomi (Schenck) ’79.

Naomi Yergey, who was a psychology major at Muhlenberg, has been with Merck for 12 years and now serves as director for human resources, also working out of West Point. She, too, says that science is the tie that binds Merck employees together and the force that attracts ‘Berg grads to Merck.

“Even outside of Merck Research Labs, there is an appreciation of science. People who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a particular scientific area find themselves at home in sales and marketing,” she says.

Katie (Clauss) Bustard ’99 is another alum who is finding herself at home at Merck’s West Point facility and another Berg graduate drawn to Merck because of science. A manufacturing associate, Bustard is part of a Merck team working to create a vaccine for the human papilloma virus. She joined the company in July 2002 after working as a teacher in the Pottstown and Cheltenham school districts.

“Merck was a big career change for me,” recalls Bustard, who was a biology and Russian studies double major at Muhlenberg and earned her science teaching certificate from Kutztown University. “I was returning to applied science and Merck’s reputation is outstanding in the whole pharmaceutical industry. I feel very lucky that with very little experience I could get a job here. I couldn’t be happier. I love what I do.”

Like Bustard, chemistry major Amanda (Switzer) Kacuba ’02 is a young Muhlenberg alumna who is happy to be building a career at Merck. She started her job as an associate analyst right after graduation. In fact, Kacuba knew she would be working for Merck well before she ever put on her cap and gown.

“I had the offer in April (of my senior year) and I started right out of school,” says Kacuba, who lives in Telford, Pa. “I got set up with Merck when the chemistry department brought in a representative from Merck to try to establish a relationship with the company. That individual came in and spoke about research he had done.

“The pharmaceutical industry is a great direction to go for someone with a chemistry degree,” she adds.



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