More than 150 West Virginia high school students have EQT Corp. to thank for making college a little more affordable.
For the past four years EQT and the EQT Foundation have been proud sponsors and supporters of the Students of Excellence program created by The State Journal.
During the program's inaugural year in 2009, EQT was one of three sponsors each providing a single $1,000 scholarship. The following year, EQT stepped up to the plate to become the title sponsor of the program, providing one student in each of West Virginia's counties with a $1,000 scholarship. In 2011, EQT increased its generosity again by expanding the scholarship program to include three four-year scholarships, each up to $18,000 per year.
This year, the company is continuing its commitment to helping West Virginia students.
"The original option to help a student from one of our operating counties fulfill their dream for a college education is what drew us to the Students of Excellence program, even though it was very difficult to decide which student, and from which county," Charlene Petrelli, vice president and chief human resources officer for EQT, said. "The new opportunity to help a student from every county in the state receive a scholarship eliminated that problem and also allowed us to spread our commitment to education across the entire state."
She said adding complete, four-year scholarships to the program in 2011 made sense for EQT because it encouraged students to consider studies in areas of importance to the natural gas industry. To be considered for the full-ride scholarship, students must major in one of six specific areas: engineering, geology, computer science/information technology, energy or land management and environmental or safety science. Once awarded the scholarship, the student must remain in one of these majors and maintain a high grade point average in college to keep receiving the funds each year.
"For a company like EQT, these are the core skills that drive our business. As a local employer, we hope to be able to increase the number of students who pursue these disciplines and maybe encourage them to consider EQT when they launch their career." Petrelli added, "From an economic development standpoint, we want to encourage students to stay local, pursue skills that will prepare them for the industries that are coming to their hometowns and use their talents to contribute to the growth of their communities."
The company said it believes that supporting the Students of Excellence scholarship program is a natural way for EQT to give back to West Virginia — a state where it has had operations for many years — as well as help local students and families at a time when the cost of education is rising.
But then again, supporting education and giving back to the community always has been part of EQT's corporate culture.
"The natural gas industry of today is much more complex than it was back in the 1800s when our company drilled one of the first commercial natural gas wells in the country," Petrelli said. "Today, math, science and technology play critical roles in everything we do, and most of the individuals we employ must be proficient in these areas — with or without a college degree. As a local employer, we want students that live here to have these skills so they can fill the jobs we are creating, and our philanthropy supports programs that can help these students gain access to the help they need so we do not have to look elsewhere for new employees."
EQT's support of education isn't just limited to the Students of Excellence program. Petrelli said the EQT Foundation also supports many other education programs and partnerships, including West Virginia Public Broadcasting and PBS KIDS GO! Young Writers Contest, the Clay Center for Arts & Sciences of West Virginia and the Education Pavilion at the annual Jamboree at the Mill. EQT also supports county fairs and festivals, as well as dozens of volunteer fire departments, food pantries and other outreach programs in the communities where it has active operations.
EQT is one of the largest natural gas producers in the Appalachian Basin and in the country and one of the most dedicated to its communities.
"We are committed to meeting the country's growing demand for clean energy, while promoting safety, providing a rewarding workplace and enriching the communities where our 1,800 employees live and work," Petrelli said. "We understand the natural gas industry, but we also understand the needs and concerns of the people who share this region with us, and we are committed to helping West Virginia thrive."