Ottumwa High School’s “SparkTank” helps local businesses during the pandemic

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 6:00 AM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Getting a job after high school or college, especially in a pandemic, can be difficult. But Ottumwa high schoolers can sign up for SparkTank, a program that allows students to partner with local businesses to complete projects.

Nancy VanWyk, who teaches the program, says she preps students for working in the professional world. “We work with them on their resumes, we work with them on time management, project management…”

Entering a second semester during the pandemic, VanWyk says SparkTank students were forced to adapt quickly: “How do you work virtually how do you time manage in a virtual world and project manage? So the students can become more flexible in that.”

But a pandemic also allowed students the opportunity to help local businesses.

VanWyk: “Maybe social media has faltered for many companies or they don’t have the funds to do what they want to do…”

Since the project’s founding in 2018, businesses like Southern Iowa Mental Health, John Deere, and even the City of Ottumwa have partnered with SparkTank students.

The only cost for a local business is the cost of the project itself, not labor. VanWyrk says the students are here to help. “Whatever’s on the bottom of your to-do list that you’d love to get but you don’t have the time, energy or money, we can place our students onto those.”

And students can use what they’ve learned for their future. Like Wyatt Tennis, who’s done video editing for a lot of projects. He hopes to go to Indian Hills and study in video editing and photography. His experience with SparkTank directly feeds into his aspirations.

And for local businesses, SparkTank provides students interested in the field, who can transition easily into employees once they’ve graduated.

VanWyk says SparkTank likes to think of how they can add value. “We want our students to get this value-added experience for them of how to work in the workplace and they learn about Ottumwa and what Ottumwa has to offer. And vice versa the small businesses and our organizations and companies in Ottumwa know what talent pool they can pull from here in Ottumwa as well.”

Local business owners can find more and begin working with SparkTank at

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