SparkTank on East Main Street

SparkTank looks forward to their projects lined up this year. 

OTTUMWA — SparkTank continues to expand its offerings to Ottumwa High School students.

Over the past two years, the program has developed several areas of instruction: Engineering and Design, Communications and Technology, Ignite, School to Work, Bulldog Manufacturing and Bulldog Construction.

Past projects vary widely. The onstruction team is continuing work on building a house. The engineering and design team have developed blueprints for the high school and John Deere renovations. In communications and technology, there’s been the girls basketball social media accounts as well as development for the Wapello County Emergency Management website. Ignite has built a coffee cart for the Family and Consumer Sciences department. There’s also been the decorations for the Ottumwa Symphony that have been designed and built through the program, and various mentors have come in to help develop the program.

Now it its third year, SparkTank is working to incorporate STEM innovator curriculum for student passion projects. “The three of us are becoming certified by the University of Iowa to become STEM innovative instructors,” Cindee Reed said of herself, Dave Becker and Nancy Van Wyk, who each lead SparkTank programs. “We want our students to come up with a passion project, something new that’s not been out there.”

She said the projects will follow the STEM process of identifying a problem (or coming up with a “bug list”), completing multiple interviews for customer discovery to validate the problem, create a prototype — with customer input — to solve the problem, and pitch the solution to the community for feedback, she said.

In fact, the program itself has been following that process. They discovered there was a problem with students graduating with “soft” employment skills, and businesses spend time, money and resources on training them. Becker said the biggest concerns centered on attendance, such as show up, not leaving early and checking in with management; behavior, such as showing respect, having a sense of ownership and maintaining confidentiality; and performance such as organizational skills, time management, presentations and professional communication.

“We hope that we can provide some skills that will provide every student with that and they can be successful in the community or wherever they decide to go,” Reed said.

At the same time, she said, instructors will continue to engage students in authentic learning practices and maintaining a professional attitude while working on technical skills to “complete real-world projects.”

Projects for 2020-21 include the following:

• Ignite: Tenco/First Resources brochure, Ottumwa Housing Authority brochure, OHS clubs and organizations publication, Babe Ruth World Series website, and a photo booth for Studio 229.

• Communications & Technology: SparkTank brochure, Pickwick brochure, OHS clubs and activities brochure, Rippling Waters website and logo, Friends of Ottumwa Parks website, Southern Iowa Mental Health Center presentation, and Accelerated Career Academy promotional video.

• Engineering & Design: Tenco/First Resources internal office redesign, John Deere aftermarket PTO design, sign development for SparkTank, ABB robot programming, drone troubleshooting, heated 3D printer bed and personal video game console.

• School to Work: “We try to match the student with something that they’re interested in and may want to do when they get out of school or go on to school to get their degree,” Becker said. “It was a little bit of a challenge with the COVID situation.” However, this year’s partners include Hindman/Person, Thumb’s Up, Hite Trucking, Farmer’s Insurance, ReMax, and Evans Middle School.

“We’re going to continue to collaborate with local businesses to find out what the needs are, and we will continue to partner with Indian Hills, the University of Iowa and other educational institutes,” Reed said.

“I think we’re very lucky to have SparkTank,” Ottumwa school board member Nancy Manson said after this week’s presentation. “It’s a program that I’m extremely proud of.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved an early retirement package for employees that are at least 55 years old with 10 years of employment with the district. A $5,000 bonus is offered to long-term employees of 25 years, with an additional $1,000 per year up to 35 years, capping the bonus at $15,000. Around 100 employees qualify, according to a summary on the meeting agenda, with projection estimating around 25 participating. Estimated cost savings to the district, according to the projections, is about $337,000 per year for five years.

• Approved an early resignation program that offers an incentive for those who don’t qualify for early retirement. Superintendent said the goal is to hire early “to get the best people we can possibly get.” Those who know they plan on leaving the district will get a $2,000 bonus if they submit their resignation by Jan. 29, 2021, which would allow the district to get a jump start on hiring for the 2021-22 school year.

• Heard an update from a student council representative that included a roundup of Sprit Week events. An Iron Man volleyball match, featuring boys from the junior and senior classes, is in the works for December with a toy drive as admission, though the date and place have yet to be set. The student council is also planning a Halloween drive-thru handout in front of the OHS steps from 6-7:30 p.m. Saturday.

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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