Meet Merle Kummer
Updated: Sep 27
Q: What brought you to Watertown’s East End?
After becoming an empty-nester in Belmont, I moved to Kendall Square in to be close to clients of my biopharma consulting business. While I loved my new-found independence, I found the place isolating.
People who worked there and people who lived nearby never crossed paths. The working-class kids who thronged the Cambridgeside mall would be clearly unwelcome in the labs around the corner. What would it be like, I thought, if white biotech professionals like me saw those teens not as threatening, but as kids
like our own – boisterous and adult-allergic but full of potential?
I started looking for a real neighborhood, and in 2017 found my new home in a two-family here.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about the East End?
It’s a genuinely diverse neighborhood. I’ve enjoyed making friends with families from all over - Lebanon, Brazil, Haiti, and even Texas. With all our rentals, we continually get new neighbors, who bring experiences ranging from rock-concert light shows to hand-made ceramics. I was also delighted to discover the East End becoming a life science hub.
Q: Tell us about the CoLAB High School STEM Career Collaboration that you co-founded in Watertown.
CoLAB is a uniquely East End story. The idea emerged at the Mount Auburn Club, where I got to talking with a young engineer who worked across the street at SQZ Biotech. Maisam and I shared an enthusiasm for inspiring high school students to explore science and technology.
I told him about my computer-enthused teenage neighbor, whose immigrant family was supportive of his ambitions but unacquainted with people in the field. We lamented the lack of venues for local sci-tech workers and residents to connect, and wondered how we could open up opportunities for Watertown kids, especially those without family connections.
Our idea for a solution was to connect WHS students with Watertown biotechs through career exploration presentations for science classes.
When we connected with WHS science department head Lynsey Kraemer, she invited us right in and found dozens of classes to host presentations. Now in our third year, we’ve brought in a half-dozen new companies and expanded to more subject areas.
In 2022 we launched a mentoring pilot, with my teenage neighbor as one of the first mentees. He's now starting a second year with a CoLAB mentor from C4 Therapeutics, who’s already helped him take on big new challenges. This summer, we’ve trained a new group of mentors, and hope to double the number of students we can reach.
Q: How can Watertown people help CoLAB and our kids succeed?
If you’re a friend or parent of a Watertown High School student, make sure they check out the new CoLAB Club, meeting monthly starting September 28, for fun, hands-on experiments with local scientists. Or encourage them to join the Mentoring program, where students form lasting relationships with local biotech professionals.
If you’re a STEM professional – in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics – consider volunteering with Watertown High School. You could provide career exploration sessions, help students conduct real scientific investigations at the CoLAB Club, or host a job shadow at your workplace.