Funding crunch imperils science, engineering fair

An unexpected loss of a key sponsorship has put the Kansas State Science and Engineering Fair in jeopardy and left organizers scrambling to bridge the funding gap.

The fair, in its third year, is scheduled for March 26 and 27 at Friends University.

Spirit AeroSystems has been the event's main sponsor for the past two years; its grants provided most of the roughly $40,000 operating budget.

KSSEF chair Kim Ring said Thursday that the organization, which is a registered nonprofit, applied for grants as it had in previous years and had planned on Spirit's support again.

But when Ring, a Eureka High School teacher, returned to school Monday, a letter from Spirit was waiting, saying the company would not sponsor the event this year.

Ring said the loss of funding was a surprise. Spirit had talked with the group about scaling back its grant request — which it did — but the company did not indicate it would withdraw all support, she said.

Brian Black, Spirit's public relations manager, said the company receives more grant requests than it can fulfill every year. He said Spirit has enjoyed working with the fair the past two years and employees will still participate as volunteers.

Although the science fair is a "very worthy" program, Spirit ultimately decided to support different projects.

"We always have more requests then resources," he said. "We have to look at what we think is the best impact for our limited dollars."

Spirit evaluates grant proposals on an annual basis, and Black said he encouraged the KSSEF to diversify its sources of funding so it wasn't solely dependent on Spirit's grants.

Fair organizers have called a board meeting for next week to discuss the situation and possible new sources of funding.

"At this point we're in dire need of new sponsors," Ring said.

The fair's original budget was about $41,000, but Ring said she thinks the budget could be scaled back to $15,000.

Steve Yuza, the fair's treasurer, said $15,000 is needed to pay for the fair's basic costs, including postage, meals at the fair and sending the winners to the international competition in San Jose, Calif.

The $41,000 budget included money to hire a fair coordinator, provide trophies, medals and savings bonds as prizes to participants and help fund regional science fairs around the state.

The group currently has about $1,500 raised from other sponsors and private donations, plus a little money left over from last year's fair. If the group isn't able to raise additional funds, Ring said, she doesn't think the fair will happen.

Ring said that when the fair was started two years ago, Kansas was one of only three states in the country without a statewide science fair.

Yuza said organizers plan to reach out to chemical, engineering and aviation companies around the state for any help they can get funding the fair, but he said they are also accepting donations from small businesses or individuals.