STEM BEST Program Sparks Success in Iowa Schools

Ottumwa High School SparkTank, a STEM BEST® Program model, assisted Wapello County Emergency Management Agency with the developm
Ottumwa High School SparkTank, a STEM BEST® Program model, assisted Wapello County Emergency Management Agency with the development of a website as one of their student business projects.

As part of the STEM BEST® Program, Ottumwa High School launched SparkTank in August 2018. This project-based experience connects students with local businesses and organizations, allowing students to solve real problems in authentic learning environments, while becoming immersed in a professional culture.

The program, located in downtown Ottumwa in a site more business-like than school, offered two strands, engineering and communications technology. Students select projects submitted by local employers based on their interests. Project deadlines and operating in a professional manner in a collaborative environment are part of the day-to-day learning.

In collaboration with Wapello County Emergency Management Agency, two student associates researched, designed and developed a website for the agency. The work was timely. With spring flooding in the area, the site was an important tool to update residents on the daily forecast.

“SparkTank allowed me to focus on the aspects that will make me successful after high school,” said Cody Cochell, a SparkTank student associate who worked on the website project.

SparkTank replicates a professional work environment, and students notice the difference. Students completing the SparkTank experience have learned and practiced employability skills, developed technical skills and learned to work in teams. 

In the coming year, the program will add two strands that will expand project-based opportunities for students in the areas of manufacturing and construction. Students who enroll in Ignite, another new strand, will follow the same learning objectives and community connections as engineering and communications technology yet will cover multiple career clusters through the same authentic learning opportunities.

The STEM Council has awarded  50 STEM BEST® Programs  since 2014 with an opportunity to grow a series of community collaborations involving school+business partnerships.

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2019 STEM BEST® Program. To apply or learn more about the STEM BEST® Program, visit

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