Student-Driven: Design to Build Day at IAA

Student-Driven: Design to Build Day at IAA

Background: Integrated Arts Academy (IAA) is a Spark-Y school partner with an apprenticeship / school program hybrid. Students in the program spend half time at Spark-Y at our commercial-scale aquaponics system, learning to care system health, and the other half of their time learning STEM-based curriculum with a focus in sustainability. As a part of their education in sustainability, students submitted their own aquaponics system designs and chose one to build on-site at school. Having completed their apprenticeship at Spark-Y, students are now equipped to care for their own aquaponics system, with continued learning in their own classroom.



Youth-designed model and student-built aquaponics frame behind it.

Systems Engineer, Andrew Rescorla, shares his
experience of build day at Integrated Arts Academy (IAA).

Early on, a few students milled around while Wolid and I cut 2x4's with the chop saw. The teacher had announced that the students didn't have to help with the build, but they could if they wanted. None of the students seemed too eager- they had the too-cool-for-school vibe going.

One student, Sean, stopped to watch us. I asked if he wanted to help and he said he would, though he wasn't so sure about making a cut with the chop saw.

"Nah, I'll let you all do that."

He hadn't spent much time around power tools.

After watching a couple of cuts, he gave it a try himself and seemed surprised with how easy it was. After a few minutes, Sean and another student wandered over to Sam, our Operations Director.  The three of them began laying out posts and assembling the wood framing.

When I joined them later, Sean was zipping in screws with an impact driver. 1, 2, 3. 1, 2, 3. He was doing a great job. There was also a newfound confidence, evident as he shared his opinions on wood screws vs. hex bolts and tested the strength of his joints by applying pressure to the cross beams.

Before he left for the afternoon, he stood back, admired what he'd built, and nodded. (I know this sounds corny but it really happened).

At Spark-Y we talk about empowering students to change the world - to create, invent, design, and build sustainable solutions to enormous global problems. But along the way are smaller moments of empowerment - when a student learns that they are capable of building something.

This was a small but cool moment for me to see in my first experience with a student build day. As I had imagined, many of the students were not that interested. But a few were. And those that engaged, they took ownership of the small tasks that were given to them. They learned how to use new tools, and they saw an aquaponics system take shape from a bunch of boards on the floor.

Internship 2017 Re-cap #InternsSoFresh

Internship 2017 Re-cap #InternsSoFresh

Executive Director, Zach Robinson, shares his 2017 Summer Internship Retrospective:

On August 10 the  Annual Spark-Y Summer Internship came to a close with our Open House, attended by 100+ supporters of our 2017 intern class, and our larger Sparky community.

This year we had 60+ applicants, all of whom interviewed for a spot on our 8 intern teams, 32 spots in total. Approximately half were undergrads and half were in high school,  while the majority came from the Twin Cities.  As in previous years, we had participants join Spark-Y from all over the globe!

Of the 8 projects – 4 were “internal” and 4 were “external” projects with community partners:

  • Urban Ag Lab Marketing Team
  • Urban Ag Lab Production Team
  • Schools Squad maintenance Feat. Roosevelt High School + others
  • Schools Squad maintenance Feat. Edison High School + Northeast Minneapolis community
  • Gastro Truck Team
  • Good Acre Maker Teams
  • Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association Community Garden
  • The Lube-Tech Waste Audit Team

HINT: Check out the Annual Internship page for links to intern blogs.



As you can see, the Spark-Y Summer Internship provides a real-world opportunity for high school and college youth to run sustainable entrepreneurial projects. This is a practical, broad, hands-on experience that is missing from so many education institutions right now. Each of the projects had an established budget, deadline, and general direction for its end goals which interns could then further define. Teams were empowered to chart their own course for project execution by creatively determining the specifics of how they would reach their goals. To help them on this journey, the teams were able to utilize specialized training from Spark-Y in the form of mentorship and assistance from experienced staff, board members, consultants, and even insight from outside partners and experts. Finally, each intern individually had a strict set of guidelines that would allow them to achieve the official Spark-Y Sustainability Certification, a professional accommodation that comes with the backing of our organization, a proficiency requirement, and a reference directly from the Executive Director upon request.

There was incredible excitement and energy through the entire internship this year, which lasted over an energy-packed 6 weeks. On Open House night, the general sentiment was: “Can we make this two weeks longer? We do not want this to be over!”


The passion, knowledge, and dedication of these interns really stuck out to me this year. A continued trend that I also noticed, is how a lack of direction and a high degree of autonomy required to execute a Spark-Y internship project  is an intimidating barrier for many youth. I believe this is due to systemic failures in some of society's education institutions, in that memorization, standard testing, and a combination of non results-oriented education outcomes and scarce creative freedom in study does not prepare them for the “real world.” However, this is part of why Spark-Y exists and when that “boiling point” of creative freedom and required results within a professional setting is reached, our youth are accessing incredible innovation and solutions within themselves. The vast majority of our interns were able to meet their project goals AND obtain their certification at the Internship Open House award ceremony. Some of the interns earned special distinctions.. All interns were paid a $750 stipend for their experience over the 6 weeks, based on the value they created for each of our project partners. And how much sweeter a certification is when it is handed out along with their final $500 check?!

> For full list of our 2017 internship graduates and their distinctions: click here.


Being a Spark-Y intern is an meaningful professional experience and resume builder. However, much of the real value, as many of us know to be in true in our lives comes from a day-to-day transformative experience that provides new opportunities, challenges your comfort zone, and maybe even feels a bit scary. On top of putting the interns in the driver’s seat of a project, we encourage them to think about this experience as an analogy for their future, calling on each individual to step into the needed leadership for our economic and environmental future. It’s a lesson that I learned as the first employee of Spark-Y, and one that all of the staff at Spark-Y embodies. (over half of whom were also once interns).

Spark-Y will continue through our internships, our school partnerships and our Urban Agriculture Lab and more, empowering youth with real-world transformative education experiences that provide tangible value to our partners and the greater community. And in so doing, we will help passionate young people create the sustainable future that our world needs.

If you want to join our mission, please sign up for a mailing list and get involved!

-Zach, Executive Director


Urban Adventure Race: Finish Line

Urban Adventure Race: Finish Line

August 5th was a special day for us at Spark-Y, with over 120 runners and 30+ teams joining us for our Spark-Y Urban Adventure Race.  Teams solved clues, set their route, and ran across Uptown, Minneapolis to take on challenges.  Teams one prizes for Best Costume, Best Photo, Best Team Name, and, of course, Fastest Time.  Team Bud and Pal won first place with a whopping 1:40:16 time taking home the first place prize.  In a act of unexpected generosity, team Bud & Pal donated their winnings back to Spark-Y.

Team Time Placements:

  1. Bud and Pal: 1:40:16
  2. The A-Veg-ners: 2:16:30
  3. Totes ma gaots: 2:22:38
  4. Yang and the Annalise YAs Queens!: 2:32:10
  5. Cereal Killers: 2:37:04
  6. Recovering Management Consultants: 2:37:51
  7. Frogger: 2:50:15
  8. Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too: 2:53:24
  9. Classy and a little sassy: 2:56:39
  10. Chasing Daisy: 3:04:35
  11. Crazy Cycle Duo: 3:04:48
  12. Geeks-Out: 3:06:21
  13. Dorks with Triforks: 3:09:05
  14. The Avocet Rabbits: 3:09:57
  15. Cavaliers: 3:15:14:
  16. Team Friendly & Co: 3:15:48
  17. The Townies: 3:23:42
  18. BMW: 3:32:21
  19. Tenentix: 3:33:29
  20. Urban Girls: 3:34:03
  21. Ranquist Rogue Resistance: 3:59:29
  22. Team Lucy: 4:09:33
  23. The Luberators: 4:16:28
  24. ChestNutz: 4:25:25
  25. MCFM: 4:30:50
  26. Lang-Go-Bang: 5:03:20
  27.  The Oles: 5:16:22
  28. Golden Pigs: 5:28:12
  29. Super Kois: 6:21:04
  30. Minnesota Spice: 6:24:50
  31. Team Winnipeg: 8:00:40
  32. The Undecided: 8:3:00

Additional Participating Teams: Cottonwood, Check Mate, Hall of Shamers, and United.

Congrats to all of our participants!


Special Note:

Our goal for this event was to bring together our Spark-Y community, and a larger community of individuals, to have a rewarding, active experience in support of our mission of youth empowerment. Our 2017 Summer Interns staffed the event and manned each checkpoint. We raised over 2,500 dollars to further support our mission, the dollars raised from this event go directly into our school programs, including hands-on sustainable learning labs such as aquaponics in the classroom.  We were thrilled to see such an excited group of individuals with "green-themed" costumes.  Our partners put on thoughtful challenges, such as Highpoint Center for Printmaking, where our teams were tasked with making screen prints of Native MN plants, and Uptown Cyclebar, where our teams cycled their hearts out to music and motivation provided by the most wonderful staff of people.

We kindly thank all of you for making this such a special day for all of Spark-Y and our Spark-Y Twin Cities youth!

Special Thanks to our host: Lyndale Tap House, with beer donated from Wabasha Brewing
Checkpoint Hosts: Bryant Lake Bowl, Midtown Greenway CoalitionHighpoint Printmaking, Cyclebar Uptown.
and Partners: Lube-Tech, Blue Plate Restaurant Co., Eide Bailly, University of St. ThomasChinook BookTiny DinerRed Stag SupperclubMN Monthly,  Presentation WizGood Leadership.

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

The following internship post is brought to you by our Lube-Tech team,
written by: Madeline Reed, Erin Purvis, Taylor Schroeder, and Max Doty

About Lube-Tech

In 1925, an oil company by the name of Jennison Rollins was founded. Later in 1946 Argi-Tec Lubricants was created, and in 1993 Jennison Rollins Oil Company, Argi-Tec Lubricants, and Gopher Oil Company worked together and formed Lube-Tech. In 1997 Rollins Fuel Oil Company merged with Lube-Tech, and by 1998 Lube-Tech started a division to test the oils and fluids they produced. Lube-Tech started working with Randt Recycling, now known as Lube-Tech Liquid Recycling, which provides recycling for used oil, used filters, coolant, and more.

In today’s society, we can’t just cut oil out of our lives. We use oil everyday in our vehicles, heating, electricity generation, and even asphalt and road oil. So how do we lessen our environmental footprint? We recycle. Lube-Tech recognizes this, and they took action. Not only does Lube-Tech distribute oil, they also pick up used oil and used oil filters to be recycled. The used oil goes to one of two places- either to the lab to extract the water from the oil to be resold as used oil, or sold as burn oil for manufacturing of asphalt. Lube-Tech wanted to take it a step further and asked Spark-Y to produce a waste audit of their work space, and that’s where we come in.

Our Project

Within a six week timeline, we were asked to create a waste audit with Lube-Tech. We were given a project brief the first day to help us better understand what we needed to do. The main piece of this project was the waste audit, but it’s hard to write an audit when you know nothing about the company. So the next week we visited three Lube-Tech sites: one in Golden Valley, one in St. Paul, and one in Roseville. On the tours we got to see the behind the scenes of the actions taken to produce, distribute, and recycle oil. The Golden Valley site is the main production site, with roughly 39,400 square feet of production space. This is where the oil is manufactured, distributed, and tested. The St. Paul location is the smallest of the three. Here they don't manufacture any oil, but distribute it to multiple locations. Lastly, at the Roseville location the oil is separated from the water to be recycled and reused into new blends of  oils for a certain need. Although the waste audit is the biggest part of the project, it’s not the only thing we needed to do.

The next thing on our to-do list was creating an awareness campaign. On our tours we noticed how little the employees were recycling, so we decided to raise awareness on recycling. If you were to combine all the office trash from all three locations, about 64% of what was thrown in the trash could have been recycled. So, we decided to create posters to hang around the facilities to help guide the employees on what they can and can’t recycle. These posters were hung around the building as a reminder- RECYCLE!

If you are interested in checking out our audit, download a copy by clicking here
To see what we did each day, download a copy of our calendar by clicking here.

You can make an impact

In today’s age, everyone should be trying to reduce their waste impact. With landfills filling up and incinerators negative health impacts, not to mention the negative environmental impacts both of those waste disposal options have, we should all be trying to reduce the amount of waste that we put in the trash. Taking the step to reduce the amount of waste you put into the trash sheds light on the importance of conducting a waste audit. Without knowing what is in your trash how can you plan on reducing it? If you have a lot of food waste in your trash, maybe backyard or commercial composting are steps you can take to divert that waste. If you have a lot of food packaging in your waste, like ziploc bags, are there changes you can make to reduce that, like purchasing a reusable food container. Identifying items in your trash and finding their proper waste streams can greatly decrease the amount of trash you have.

Everyone knows the phrase Reduce Reuse Recycle and for good reason. One thing that is important to recognize is that they are listed in order of effectiveness to reduce your waste. Reducing the amount of disposable items you use will prevent you from having to find the correct waste stream for disposing them. Reusing items will ensure that you can get as much use as you can out of a product, preventing you from having to buy any more. Lastly, recycle when you can no longer use something, put it in a waste stream where it can be broken down and converted into something else.


These are all guidelines that you can follow and guidelines that Lube-Tech has decided to take to reduce their waste footprint. With their long term goal being accomplishing zero-waste, we have helped to start that process on ensuring that all of their office waste is disposed of in the proper waste stream. Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard, showing that you can be in the oil and lubricants industry while also moving to ensure that environmental impacts are decreased in places where they have that direct control.

“It was so great to be a part of a project that can directly divert waste from going to landfills or incinerators! Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard; that correctly managing waste in office locations is important and possible.”    

    -Madeline Reed

My dream is to be an environmental management consultant, working with the strategic, analytical, and managerial processes associated with the environmental impact of corporate products and processes. Due to that, I was very pleased to hear that I was placed on this team. It provided me a trial run of my future and only fueled my passion for sustainable business even more!”    

    -Erin Purvis

“Working on this project with my group has been a blast! I was able to apply my knowledge on zero-waste living to something bigger- an oil company! It feels great knowing that the work we did will change the oil industry and the world. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is still a new concept to many, but it’s a growing trend, and we helped it expand even further from our homes.”

    -Taylor Schroeder

“I had such a great time during this internship! I got to meet people of all kinds of backgrounds and work with them to finish an assigned task. This was a great way to test my skills and see how I can contribute the most. My favorite part about the internship was the value of everyone’s opinions. I thought Spark-Y did a great job of making teamwork one of the main priorities.”

    -Max Doty