It may have been a summer filled with high-profile breakups, but for educators, perhaps the most shocking split came this September—not in Hollywood, but Silicon Valley—when Intel and the Science Talent Search (STS) announced they were ending their 17-year relationship. Like a jilted lover, the Society for Science & the Public announced it would be seeking new sponsorship for its high-school competition, which has effectively served as the country’s premiere science fair since its inception in 1942. Fans of the competition reacted accordingly, taking to Twitter to share stories of the one-time romance, bemoan the breakup, and offer up a collective cry of “Why?!”
“I’m shocked,” said Michael Blueglass, president of the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair, one of the feeders for the national competition. “They sponsor the two biggest STEM-education fairs in the world,” he continued, referring to the STS and Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair. Intel will continue to sponsor ISEF through 2019; the STS sponsorship will end in 2017. “To give that up doesn’t make sense.”
The last time STS sought a new sponsor was in 1997, when Westinghouse, fading from existence as a manufacturing company, dropped its involvement. That split surprised no one; the company had been slowly declining for a decade before becoming subsumed by CBS. According to Michelle Glidden, who worked in the Science & the Public press office on the day Westinghouse’s departure was announced, a number of companies quickly offered up sponsorship deals to fill the void. But the financial problems that plagued Westinghouse don’t seem to be at play for Intel: The company’s gross revenue was $55.9 billion last year, and according to a New York Times report on the dropped sponsorship, the science contest costs about $6 million a year to run.