SparkTank on East Main Street

SparkTank looks forward to their projects lined up this year. 

OTTUMWA — The school year hasn’t even started and Director of SparkTank Jeff Kirby already said they have a number of projects lined up. The work includes designing another project for the Ottumwa Symphony Guild, building a house in town, producing a safety video for a company and a building project city hall asked them to work on.

The projects are not the only concepts students can look forward to this school year. SparkTank is introducing a couple new concepts such as the Bulldog manufacturing course and a new course called “Ignite.”

“The Bulldog Manufacturing course is an idea we got from the Ottumwa Symphony,” Kirby said, “students are able to build more projects and more businesses are able to work with students. ‘Ignite’ allows students to choose projects from different career strands.”

Another new concept SparkTank has is a school work program. Like SparkTank itself, this program will work with businesses, but unlike SparkTank which focuses more on building and designing for different organizations, this work program will work with students who want to go into a specific field and place them in a real world work environment.

“Students will work a couple days a week, get credits and might even get paid depending on the business,” Kirby said, “these are real life practical skills. With this program, they will have a lot more opportunities to develop a sense of adventure and a sense of a career.”

Although SparkTank is fairly new, Kirby continues to pride himself on “the uniqueness of the program.” Kirby said this uniqueness presents challenging and wonderful notions.

“The challenging is communicating to people what we do because it doesn’t just boggle down to one thing,” he said, “the wonderful thing is being able to watch students be challenged in areas they struggle with. I enjoy seeing teachers not give ownership in solving problems — they let the students handle it themselves.”

As the school year draws near, Kirby wants to see more students get plugged into SparkTank. “I do encourage more students to sign up,” he said, “the easiest way to start is to talk to a counselor, visit SparkTank and learn about the opportunities that way. It aligns them with success in a way that is unique and fun. I’d love to see more students take part in this opportunity.”

Kirby also said SparkTank doesn’t just prepare students for a job after high school, it can get them college-ready. “This helps them in the long run, whether in college or a career,” he said. “It helps them figure out what they want for a career or even a career they don’t want to do.”

Kirby does hope to see the program expand in the future, whether that be with more students or future partnerships. Without the students and partnerships, SparkTank would not be possible. “We try to acknowledge businesses,” he said, “it could not be done without these partnerships. We are lucky to have the financial support of Indian Hills Community College, John Deere and the Legacy Foundation.”

— Chiara Romero can be reached at


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