Natalie Blake, 17, a senior at Star City High School at Star City, won the 2020 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge award for Southeast Arkansas on March 13, according to a news release from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Blake received a $300 cash award from the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. Her science project is titled “Induced leaching of high sodium water out of root uptake zone of Glycine max by ionization.”

Shannon Blake, the student’s mentor, won the $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher Mentor award. Natalie’s mentor believes having students participate in the Soybean Science Challenge is a great idea.

“My students learn about the sustainability of soybeans and the effects this crop has on Arkansas jobs and the economy,” she said. “They get their hands dirty, and they open up connections with others who have the same interests which could be valuable to their futures.”

Natalie Blake said winning the regional Soybean Science Challenge is an honor and she was thrilled just to be able to participate.

“I had finished my project but due to the COVID-19 quarantine conditions, science fair participation was not an option. I am glad The Challenge virtually judged by abstract,” she said.

Walt and Shannon Blake, Natalie’s parents, were very proud that she won the regional Soybean Science Challenge Award.

“Natalie’s science teacher motivated her to participate in the science fair so she would get hands-on experience in research and communication skills. Natalie has thrived in these situations,” they said.

Shannon Blake, the mentor, discussed what Natalie Blake gained in the Soybean Science Challenge.

“By competing in the Soybean Science Challenge, Natalie has gained confidence in her ability to become part of a community of scientists, teachers or engineers. The possibilities are endless,” she said.

Natalie Blake was also exposed to a different perspective about agriculture while working on her project.

“I was able to have some new experience in the testing lab and I met some fascinating people who work with soybeans every day. This opportunity has given me the confidence I need to pursue a career in plant science,” she said.

Her parents saw their daughter’s enthusiasm for agriculture grow as she worked through her project.

“Natalie possesses a natural curiosity and compassion about living things. Having worked on this project for years now, Natalie has become serious about a career in agriculture and will be attending Southern Arkansas University to major in Agriculture-Plant Science,” they said.

Teacher and mentor Shannon Blake believes there is a lot of relevance in teaching agriculture in the classroom. Before the Soybean Science Challenge, she admitted she knew very little about soybeans.

“I knew a few farmers and they were often fretting over weather and planting. I now know soybeans are an important versatile means of feeding people throughout the world,” she said.

Julie Robinson, Ph.D, is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and director of the program.

“The Soybean Science Challenge provides an opportunity for Arkansas High School students to participate in scientific research that can impact the State of Arkansas as well as the world,” Robinson said. “Soybean Science Challenge student researchers learn about this important commodity crop and its many uses including feeding the world, development of biofuels and sustainable products. The Soybean Science Challenge helps students develop an understanding of the challenges and complexities of modern farming.”

Gary Sitzer is a former member of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in ‘real world’ education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” Sitzer said. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas Soybean Industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12th grade science students. Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2020 ISEF-affiliated Arkansas Science and Engineering Fairs.

Information on the 2020-2021 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2020. Details, contact Julie Robinson at or Diedre Young at

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.