Merck buys STEM lab kits for schools

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Part of a $30,000 grant from Merck Pharmaceutical Manufacturing is funding STEM instructional materials at all middle schools in Wilson County Schools.

“We just find it really important to partner with the community, and we are hoping that partnership will make young people in the community realize that there are jobs right here in Wilson County, great jobs in science fields, math and technology fields,” said Wendy Winslow, of the quality systems improvement program at Merck.

Winslow, who is the Neighbor of Choice ambassador for the Merck site in Wilson, joined Eric Nguyen, a chemist and co-community liaison lead for Merck, in assembling STEM kits for the schools this week at Toisnot Middle School.

The gift was coordinated by Robin Williams, executive director of Wilson Education Partnership, and Cynthia Wortham, secondary curriculum coordinator for WCS.

The kits include robotics outfits, kits working with electricity, notebooks for different thinking activities, K’Nex to let students do various engineering projects, and many other knowledge-broadening items having to do with science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Nguyen said Merck knows that children are the future.

“We definitely want to do all we can to make sure that they have all of the right tools to make sure they are properly learning the correct way and are able to take on the future,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen, a 2009 graduate of Hunt High School, said he is excited to see what the students are able to do with the kits.

“Maybe they can be more creative. Maybe they can be the ones to find a new idea that everyone else didn’t see,” Nguyen said. “We are real excited to see that.”

Williams said Merck is the Wilson Education Partnership’s lead donor.

“Merck is huge,” Williams said. “We could not do it without them.”

Williams said the STEM kits will be in a central location in each middle school so that all science teachers in grades six, seven and eight will be able to benefit.

“So what we are doing is buying supplies this year that can be used every year,” Williams said. “We can add to them, but the whole school will be able to benefit. It is very expensive to build STEM labs, upwards of $30,000 in one school, so with limited resources, we are taking baby steps to start adding supplies. This, coupled with our mini grant program that we do, which we also had monies from Merck, they allow us to also partner with some other teacher on other STEM initiatives.”

The Merck grant also supports the WEP Career Connections Program, where professionals meet children in classrooms to give insights in career paths here in Wilson, and Lunch with a Professional, where smaller groups of students get one-on-one or one-on-three meetings to further guide students who are interested in a particular pathway.

“It is very important to partner with the community and the schools so that they know that it’s out there, and sometimes it is right in their backyard,” Winslow said.

“We would like to see them come back to Wilson and lay down roots.”