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
Executive Project Manager - Assistant to the Executive Director
Hype woman and tree hugger
I grew up near Stillwater, MN and developed a love for nature from the very beginning. My parents weren’t always too pleased when I would bring home snakes, birds, turtles, and toads when the critters “needed my help,” but they never stifled my enthusiasm. Much of my life has been devoted to politics, education, and the environment, but what makes it all worthwhile for me is mixing some art, culture, and dancing into everyday life. I am grateful to have a job that brings together all of my passions for youth leadership development, community building, and environmental stewardship, while never forgetting to have fun. As the executive project manager, I help turn the executive team’s big ideas into reality. Administration, finance, communications, design: Spark-Y names it, I get it done. Graduated Environmental Science, Policy, & Management with minors in Sustainability Studies and Ecological Engineering, University of Minnesota
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
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.
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.
Sustainability Educator, STEM
Driven, compassionate, level-headed
Being able to help others gain knowledge in the sciences and sustainability is what has driven me to work with Spark-Y. My love of biology is why I obtained an undergraduate degree in marine biology and sustainability. With my degree, I want to share my passion with people by teaching them how incredible biology is, as well as, showing them how we can implement sustainable practices into our daily lives. With my role at Spark-Y, I am able to educate students about these two topics by being in the classroom with them daily. Graduated with BS in Marine Biology, minor in Sustainability, Auburn University
(2018) Spark-Y Internship graduate
Sustainability Educator, AmeriCorps
Curious thinker, empathetic educator, loyal friend
Matt Kolasny is spending this year with Spark-Y as a Public Ally, an AmeriCorps service program which focuses on social justice and leadership in nonprofit organizations. As part of this work, Matt is leading Spark-Y's partnership with Roosevelt High School's Urban Farming Squad, which involves co-teaching a class focusing on sustainable agriculture practices, urban farming skills, and food systems. He's honored to have this opportunity to help students learn about and grow their own food. Passions for cooking, eating, youth work, and education drew Matt to his role at Spark-Y, where he also assists with volunteer recruitment and community partnership development.
Outside of work, Matt enjoys spending time camping, hiking, watching and playing a variety of sports and games, and spending time with family and loved ones over delicious meals. The eldest of three brothers originally from Chicago, Matt moved to the Twin Cities in 2014 to study at Macalester College, where he earned degrees in Geography and German Studies in 2018. Now living in Minneapolis, he hopes to find more time and opportunity to travel and explore futures in sustainable urban planning, cooking, and nonprofit work.