Winter 2004 Magazine Archive & SearchMuhlenberg Home


Muhlenberg Goes Medical

Mules at Merck(continued...)


“Originally, I was going to finish up an education degree in the fall, but then I got calls from the people from Merck.”

And, as with most things in life, the Muhlenberg-Merck connection appears to run full circle, as both Naomi and Jim Yergey are involved in helping to recruit additional ‘Berg graduates to the company.

“It’s great to be in a human resources role and interview Muhlenberg graduates for positions here,” Naomi says.

And as chair of his Merck department’s recruiting committee, Jim makes an annual pilgrimage to his old Muhlenberg stomping grounds – a relatively easy trek from the couple’s Center Valley, Pa. home.

“Finding good graduate students is hard and it’s even harder to find good undergraduates,” Jim says. “I go back to the chemistry department at Muhlenberg each year as part of our recruiting process.”

Merck is doing its part to ensure that the pool of undergraduates it has to choose from is well qualified through a partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Beginning in 2000, Merck and AAAS expanded nationally the Undergraduate Science Research Program, an initiative designed to promote an interdisciplinary research experience for undergraduate students in biology and chemistry at primarily undergraduate liberal arts institutions. Up to 15 three-year awards will be made through the program annually until 2009.

Four years ago Muhlenberg College received one of those three-year grants and is now applying for further funding.

Kacuba credits her participation in Muhlenberg’s summer research program and the way the College helped her connect with Merck while she was still a student as key in helping her obtain her position with Merck.

“Most of my job is in analytical chemistry,” she says, “and my classes at Muhlenberg gave me the foundation I needed to get out in the field. I did the summer research program and that was a great experience, to be able to get out there and do trouble-shooting kinds of things.

“I think that that research experience was essential. Plus [the College] is really great at providing contacts. I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t met the people from Merck who came into the department. Having that exposure was really important too,” she says.

And, Kacuba has her own take on why Muhlenberg graduates are such a good fit for Merck.

“Liberal arts students are required to take all different kinds of courses and Merck really focuses on diverse thought,” she says. “For my job, Merck was looking for people who had great communications skills more than the technical side of it, because I am dealing with people from around the world.”

Kacuba, who also works out of Merck’s West Point facility, said she wasn’t aware of the number of Muhlenberg grads on the Merck team prior to being interviewed by the Muhlenberg Magazine. But with about 10,000 employees at her location alone, she isn’t surprised that she hasn’t come across too many fellow Mules during the workday.

Jim and Naomi Yergey, on the other hand, were quite aware of the Muhlenberg-Merck connection, and have been for some time – since their days at Merck’s Montreal facility more than a decade ago. In fact, Naomi says of the 200 Merck employees in Montreal at the time, five were Muhlenberg graduates.

And, both she and Jim were excited to recommend other ‘Berg alums as sources for this story.

In contrast, class of 1992 grad Lisa (Argeson) Finnegan, who is a senior attorney at Merck’s Rahway, N.J., facility, says she didn’t know about the number of Muhlenberg alums working for Merck before being contacted for this story.

“It doesn’t surprise me because Muhlenberg has always been very strong in the sciences and not everyone wants to be a physician,” says Finnegan, who lives in Millstone Township, N.J., with her husband, Michael, and their children, Gillian, age four and Brendan, 15 months. “When I got the phone call from you (about the story) I wasn’t surprised because Merck would be a good place to work for someone who wants to do basic research.”

Ironically, it was Finnegan’s desire not to do basic research that drew her to Merck in 2001, after she finished law school at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.

“I went to graduate school after Muhlenberg,” explains Finnegan, whose undergraduate degree is in biology. “I went to Jefferson where I got a Ph.D. I liked reading about research and I liked being in the field, but I didn’t like to do the actual benchwork.

Katie (Clauss) Bustard '99 is part of a Merck manufacturing team working on a vaccine to eliminate cervical cancer.

“My job [as a Merck biotech patent attorney] is a great job, enabling me to keep up with science but not actually have to do it in the lab,” she says.

Bustard, too, says she didn’t realize that there are so many fellow alums working for Merck, but that the Muhlenberg-Merck connection makes sense to her.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” says the Plymouth Meeting, Pa., resident, “but I am part of a small manufacturing team and I work midnight to 8:30 a.m., so I tend to be a little more isolated from the rest of the company. Plus, this is a huge complex. But it’s really a wonderful company to work for.”

Bustard’s enthusiasm for her job at Merck seems to capture the sentiment of the other ‘Berg alums working there:

“The best thing is that I am able to directly apply the scientific concepts that I learned at Muhlenberg in a way that helps people,” Bustard says. “The vaccine that we are working on now could eliminate cervical cancer. I am not the doctor writing the prescription or the nurse giving the injection, I am actually making the stuff and literally thousands of lives depend on the quality of my work.

“There are so many fields you can go into within one company and you are expected to go into other areas and to get a taste for all parts of the process, which I hope to do, but if I wind up doing what I am doing now for the next 30 years, I will be happy. I love what I do.”

Jennifer M. Marangos has worked as a freelance writer and editor throughout the Lehigh Valley for the past 10 years. She lives in Bethlehem.


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