Today, during the opening ceremony for the 2014 Arkansas Science and Engineering Fair at the University of Central Arkansas, Southwestern Energy Company announced a $150,000 commitment to encourage interest in STEM education through a partnership with the Arkansas Science and Engineering Fair Association.

Scores recently released from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment revealed that U.S. high school students now sit in 24th place in science achievement in comparison to their international peers, slipping from 20th place in 2009.

For companies like Southwestern Energy or SWN, this decrease in science, mathematics and engineering proficiency threatens their opportunities to innovate and be successful, said Communications Specialist Christina Fowler.

The commitment builds on a 2010 pledge of $100,000 SWN made to the fair, which has sustained the event and funded prizes for individual and team winners.

In addition to supporting the annual event, the new commitment will make funds available to encourage Arkansas educators to host regional science fairs in areas where they are not currently available and to sponsor student projects in their schools.

The money will also go toward college scholarships for high school seniors participating in the Arkansas Science and Engineering Fair each year and majoring in a STEM discipline at an Arkansas college.

"Southwestern Energy Company’s renewed support will ensure the success of our fair for the next several years," said Dr. Mark Bland, president of the Arkansas Science Fair Association. "I’m pleased that this new commitment will go far beyond this to encourage regional science fair participation and a renewed interest in the sciences for teachers and students."

Since SWN’s sponsorship of the Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair began in 2009, the fair has experienced a 26 percent increase in participation. The company is currently developing specific goals for increased teacher and student participation in regional and state science fairs by 2019.

"Southwestern Energy has always supported educational opportunities for Arkansas students, especially in the areas of math, science and engineering," said George Sheffer, vice president of operations-Fayetteville Shale at SWN. "Now, we have a chance to help create those opportunities, with an ultimate goal of giving every student in the state access to compete in a science fair in their area."

Individual and team winners of the Arkansas Science and Engineering Fair advance to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair each year, where they compete in the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

"We are hopeful that these new grant and scholarship offerings will help our teachers build improved STEM programs and encourage Arkansas students to pursue careers in the fields that are so critical to our country’s future," Sheffer said.

(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at