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Jessica Merkel-Keller ’04 has received a graduate studies grant that is giving her the opportunity to work with leading medical researchers and government policy makers in Canada.

Enrolled in a masters program in the department of experimental medicine at McGill University, Merkel-Keller was awarded the grant from APOGEE-NET, a project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, whose objective is the production of relevant, policy-oriented research in the area of genetics.

In addition to the $17,850 (US $14,580) she is receiving for tuition and expenses, Merkel-Keller will be assigned to a genetics lab in Quebec Province where she will conduct research, and will serve on a board that advises the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Merkel-Keller is the latest in a long list of recent Lafayette recipients of prestigious national and international scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and post-graduate study. For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, assistant dean of studies, (610) 330-5521. See also the latest edition of Aristeia, which showcases the achievements and reflections of outstanding current and recent Lafayette students who represent the growing number of students at the College pursuing both academic excellence and engagement with civic life and social justice.

APOGEE-NET aims to establish a knowledge network that brings together the producers, disseminators, and users of knowledge to support policy making in the area of genetics. Network participates include university-based researchers in a variety of disciplines, researchers from organizations whose mandate is to counsel decision makers and to promote knowledge translation, clinicians, public representatives, and policy makers.

Merkel-Keller brings her background in bioethics to the group. Her masters concentration is in bioethics; she graduated from Lafayette with a B.S. in neuroscience and an A.B. degree with a biomedical ethics major.

For a woman deeply concerned about the American health care system, her Canadian experience will be a significant asset to her long-term career credentials.

“[Learning about the Canadian health care system] was one of the reasons I was interested in McGill,” says the New Jersey native. “Being in graduate school in Canada will be a totally different way of thinking and approaching problems. Solutions are made in Canada in a very egalitarian way, consistent with Canada’s socialized ethics.”

Health care is clearly a personal cause for Merkel-Keller, one firmly developed while attending Lafayette. Her experience as an emergency medical technician with the Easton Medical Squad exposed her to many who had no health insurance.

“Those experiences led me to ask questions that weren’t scientific but philosophical,” she recalls. “I saw people who had to choose between food or medication. When you see this, you have to wonder if America’s health care is the best it can be.”

“Depending on what study you read, America ranks between 17th and 35th in its health care system; 44 million people are without health care. I’m interested in changing that.

“I think we have a lot to learn. And I hope to learn from being here so I can bring something back to influence U.S. health care policy. This grant will enable me to see how Canada makes decisions, and hopefully [this experience] will extend credibility to me,” she says.

While her masters program is enhancing her academic training, the experience she will get via the grant will give her first-hand insight into the many facets of a nation’s health care system.

“APOGEE-NET is an interesting approach,” adds Merkel-Keller. “It seeks to give people voices at all levels and to try and get a sense of what Canadians feel and what they want in the health care system. In the U.S., it seems these decisions get made from the top down.”

The APOGEE-NET grant is not the only academic success she has received in Canada. Since graduating, she won second prize at a conference held by Sigma Xi (the international honor society for scientific and engineering research) for research on CPR she did at Lafayette with Stephen Lammers, Helen H.P. Manson Professor of the English Bible.

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles