Zach Robinson |
Zach Robinson has more than doubled, every year, the number of youth served and the financial growth of Spark-Y since he became Executive Director in 2013.
Committed to his staff and the youth population they serve, Robinson seeds principles of entrepreneurship and empowerment into his leadership approach. As a result, hundreds of interns and student participants have gone on to start their own businesses, obtain jobs, or are inspired by sustainable business practices for their future. As an organization, this has contributed to a culture of progressive growth - students becoming interns, interns returning as leaders, leaders enterprising to staff positions, and staff collectively expanding the mission and impact of Spark-Y.
Robinson is passionate about creating win-win relationships with community, corporate and financial partners. These strategic partnerships create meaningful experiences for youth, while providing value for our partners. As a result, Spark-Y and their partners continue to launch youth-engaged innovative and sustainable projects, including the first in-restaurant aquaponics system and the greenest school campus in Minnesota.
(2013) Executive Director
(2010) Operations Director
(2008) Board of Directors and first Treasurer
Co-Founder: Green Circuit Solar
Co-Founder: Stophouse Music Group
Graduated first in-class, Honors, Indiana University, Kelly School of Business
Sam Menzies |
Sam Menzies, Spark-Y Operations Director, leads sustainable systems for the organization: in-classroom programs, community / off-site initiatives and a commercial-scale urban aquaponics system at our Minneapolis office. Exemplifying sustainability and entrepreneurship in-action, Menzies creates systems that generate produce and monetary resources, using available and re-purposed materials, while eliminating waste-streams. The simplicity and ingenuity of Menzies’ systems design are taught in classrooms, showcased at the Urban Agriculture Lab, and integrated into every Spark-Y project.
For Menzies, sustainable systems are more than just a business model, they are also a way to connect to community and interact with people in a positive way.
(2015) Operations Director
(2014) Systems Manager: Founded Microgreens Initiative
(2014) Spark-Y Internship graduate
Greenhouse agriculture installation in China
Graduated Economics and Philosophy, with a focus in agriculture, Wheaton College
Cecelia Watkins |
Education Director, Cecelia Watkins, is responsible for managing school and community partnerships as well as ensuring the fulfillment of Spark-Y's mission. Watkins believes true learning occurs along our "growing edge," engaging our hearts and bodies as well as our minds. When we care about our subject matter and feel our learning is relevant beyond our own lives, our curiosity leads to deep knowledge and ultimately to action. What would our world look like if we all understood the collaborative, abundance generating ecosystem interactions behind something like aquaponics and could apply it to regenerating the health of our communities? What would our world look like if the fire of youth passion and creativity was fueled and directed instead of dampened and disengaged? She is thrilled to spend her time imagining the more beautiful world we can create together, and cultivating transformative learning opportunities for youth, staff, and all community members. Watkins was born in Minneapolis and raised on St Paul's East Side. She returned to the Twin Cities in 2018 by way of 2,000 mile solo bike ride after 10 years work-learning in youth empowerment, food justice, alternative education and nonprofit leadership.
(2018) Spark-Y Lead Educator
(2017) Spark-Y Action Educator
Graduated magna cum laude with BAs in Sociology and Islamic/Middle Eastern Studies, minor in International and Global Studies, Brandeis University
Science expert, intelligent innovator, solution-oriented
I originally joined Spark-Y to build a DIY bio lab and expand science literacy in the twin cities. I have stayed because the freedom that Spark-Y affords to continue that mission, building skills while helping every part of the organization. I feel that my input makes a difference and and creates scientifically sound school programs.
(2013) Creator of DIY bio lab
Lead Education Facilitator
Change agent, innovator, visionary educator
Creating a sustainable future is my mission. Educating youth is my passion. After completing my graduate degree in Environmental Management and Sustainability I wanted to begin a career focused on promoting sustainability while inspiring and educating our youth. Spark-Y has allowed me to do just that. At Spark-Y my role is to lead educational programs, empower youth, and support our education team. Kids have the power to change the world. I’m thrilled to be a part of that change.
Urban Farm Manager and Education Facilitator
Passionate farmer, sustainability-minded, cultivator
At Spark-Y, I care for the Urban Agriculture Lab located at our headquarters on Chicago Ave. I also coordinate the Shoreham Community Garden in Northeast Minneapolis through a partnership with the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association. My role at Spark-Y allows me to live out my passions every day. Through this role I know I am contributing to a more just & sustainable food system, and I am passing that knowledge on to our Twin Cities neighbors.
(2015) Spark-Y Internship graduate.
Community Outreach Coordinator
Organizer, scientist, artist
At Spark-Y, I combine my strengths of community organizing, science literacy, and sustainability education. I am driven by the opportunity to form strong community networks through our shared goals. My history of helping vulnerable populations motivates me to empower all future generations to live holistic and healthy lives. Through the lens of my diverse experiences, I am eager to form many interdisciplinary partnerships to support our mission.
Graduated Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, with a minor in Fisheries and Wildlife, University of Minnesota
WWF Climate Change Initiative, School for Field Studies Tanzania
Meaningful worker, resourceful, analytical enthusiast
My professional background includes supporting the Minnesota research community by overseeing animal care aspects of research. At Spark-Y, I get to demonstrate aspects of my education and previous work experience by mixing in practical curriculum to empower youth in their classrooms. What brought me to Spark-Y was the atmosphere of an entrepreneurship mindset and real-world sustainable outcomes, which is a concept often times unfamiliar to underserved youth. Here, students are able to energize their knowledge of science with hands-on activities, and experience building and growing systems that will change their community. What makes me passionate about my role as an educator is that I’m able to expand my knowledge, and share science with students so that they can better their lives in a sustained way and bring their knowledge back to their community.
Compassionate teacher, marketer, change agent
I chose Spark-Y because of the atmosphere, the staff, but most of all because I am truly proud of the work we do here. Professionally, I am most passionate about being able to help students form their own opinions about the environment. Seeing their opinions change as they grow is inspiring to me.
(2016) Spark-Y Internship graduate
Positive nurturer, dedicated organizer, enthusiastic facilitator
I am so passionate about the Spark-Y mission and love that I get to spend my days working with so many different students! Bringing hands-on education that is both fun and meaningful into classrooms every day is work that I feel great about doing. Seeing students learn, explore, and grow is as empowering of an experience for me as it is for them. It's wonderful to work with people, both students and staff, who share a common goal of making our community and our planet a better place for all.
(2016) Spark-Y Minnesota Greencorp Member
Systems Excellence Specialist
Eager learner, loyal teammate, future-minded
The elegance and potential of aquaponics intrigued me from the moment I learned of it, so I'm thrilled to join an organization that uses aquaponics as a tool to teach students in innovative ways. Specifically, I am excited with how Spark-Y empowers students to be active designers and builders, creating a system that grows a valuable (and delicious) product. At Spark-Y, my role is to assist with designing, building, operating, and maintaining the aquaponics systems.
Value-driven educator, creative problem solver, devoted plant mom
I believe that if every child grew up empowered to grow their own fruits and vegetables the food systems in our country would be a lot more sustainable. In my role as an elementary school sustainability educator I get to work toward making that vision a reality - plus so much more! This uniquely enthusiastic and curious age group energizes me every day and it is my aim to to build a strong foundation of scientific inquiry that will energize their lives. I feel lucky to work for Spark-Y, where my passions for the environment and education are echoed and encouraged to grow.
Research & Innovation Coordinator
As the research and innovation coordinator for Spark-Y, I work to create the link between what happens in the lab and the classroom. Whether that means tinkering with aquaponic systems, critically testing curriculum, or tackling waste streams, I look to create a learning environment that helps us realize a more sustainable future. I aim to strengthen the resilience of our community through an empowering connection we create by growing and sharing our own food. Spark-Y gives students the opportunity to take control of their education through hands-on learning, and seeing the change it can make in their lives is amazing.
Curious thinker, adept analyzer, problem solver
My background in History left me with no doubt in the power of a solid education to transform both individuals and in turn their broader communities. Although not all of education’s value is easily quantifiable, its ability to instill a depth of context and provide individuals with a sense of accountability is unmistakable. I was drawn to Spark-Y because its programs both endeavor and succeed in combining the best of traditional education with a “hands on” approach that encourages youth to grow their own ideas, build plans to see them through, and ultimately gain an unique sense of ownership as they see their efforts manifest as tangible results. Quality sustainability/entrepreneurial education alone would make a difference, but when I found that Spark-Y’s holistic approach endeavors for more by linking these efforts to valuable partnerships and annual internship opportunities, I jumped at the chance to be part of a team so firmly dedicated to making an impact, both in and well beyond the classroom.