Post-secondary students across Minnesota are inspired to change the world through projects that promote pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and water conservation. The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) is a University of Minnesota intern program, funded in part by the Metropolitan Council, that connects students with businesses and these types of projects.
“We’re all about solutions,” said program director Laura Babcock. She’s citing the program’s purpose as well as its annual publication on intern contributions (PDF).
“More than 380 companies across the state have benefitted from MnTAP interns working in the hospitality industry, healthcare, manufacturing, and food processing. Our intern projects result in solutions that positively affect a business and reduce its environmental footprint,” she said.
Babcock cites the Solutions publication as a rich resource on the reduction in water, energy, and waste, as well as dollars saved, by the 2022 MnTAP interns.
“Industrial and commercial water use in the region totals about 125 million gallons a day, primarily from groundwater,” according to Dr. John Clark, environmental scientist in our Environmental Services division. “That is second only to residential and urban water use.”
Interested businesses: It’s time to apply
Interns provide a great return on investment for businesses eager to save money and water through greater efficiencies, Clark said. For students it means essential on-the-job training and experience.
Note to businesses: The program is accepting company applications now through January 31 for summer 2023 interns. Learn more and apply.
Intern Madeline Danforth “exceeded expectations”
Madeline Danforth hails from River Falls, Wisconsin. She is a student at University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) studying chemical engineering. One of 16 MnTAP interns in 2022, Madeline opted to team up with Advance Corporation in Cottage Grove. Among the company’s products are recognition awards, wayfinding sign systems, and ADA-compliant signage.
Earlier this year, the company opted to discontinue using magnesium dies in the etching process for things like engraving and embossing.
"We wanted an intern to determine how much we could reduce waste by discontinuing the nitric acid etching process and switching to a system that reduces air emissions from our painting and finishing operations,” said CEO Glen Lorenz.
“Madeline far exceeded our expectations,” Lorenz said. “She established processes that will save us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and reduce the gases, wastewater, and hazardous waste generated in our processes,” he said.
“Working with Advance Corporation was a good fit for me,” said Danforth. “What I liked best about the experience was problem solving, being able to think with an engineering mindset, and the people who work there.
“The projects allowed me to explore and think creatively. Most rewarding, however, is the impact my work will have. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity.”
Danforth hopes to make her mark on sustainability, pollution prevention, and energy and water efficiency in her future career. Her advice to student interns: Ask questions and write everything down!
Intern Sai Ramreddy “made a significant impact”
Sai Ramreddy, from Woodbury, is a UMD student in chemical engineering who spent his summer internship with Kemps.
We all know of Kemps for its cows and dairy products. Did you know it takes a lot of water to manufacture sour cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt at the Kemps facility in Farmington?
In 2021, Kemps-Farmington used about 131 million gallons of water for its various processes at the facility. With a focus on continuous improvement, the plant set a goal of reducing water usage by 7% by the end of 2022.
“Our main goal for the year was to minimize water waste and increase water conservation here at Kemps,” said Peter Stollberg, supervisor of quality assurance, sanitation, and compliance at Kemps.
“With Sai’s help, we were able to go above and beyond our goal,” said Stollberg. “Sai was thorough, intuitive, hardworking, and a true asset to Kemps. He was able to focus on our areas of biggest waste and has made a significant impact at our plant.”
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” said Ramreddy. “I learned a lot about dairy production. Employees helped me understand water usage at the facility and I was able to apply my knowledge and skills to create efficiencies. I am grateful to MnTAP for giving me this opportunity and Kemps-Farmington for support during my project.”
Ramreddy wants to advance a career in renewable energies. He said interested students don’t need prior experience or high academic achievement to be successful applicants. But, he says, they do need to be hardworking, thorough, and a good communicator.
Local businesses benefit greatly from interns
“Leather tanning and manufacturing is a water-intensive process,” said Garrett Kramer, assistant plant manager at Twin City Tanning (TCT) in South St. Paul. “So, we tasked our MnTAP intern with gathering data that helps us identify new ways to save water and, therefore, money.”
Shane Johnson is a Macalester student in chemistry and environmental studies who interned with TCT.
“Working at TCT gave me a new-found appreciation for the leathermaking industry, as it was a far more complex and fascinating process than I had initially realized,” Johnson told MnTAP officials. “I appreciate both MnTAP and TCT for giving me the opportunity to learn and grow in an independent yet supportive atmosphere.”
Kramer says savings are in the form of less water consumption, fewer pollutants, and reduced fees associated with sending contaminants into the wastewater system.
“Our intern is going to make some company very happy as a future employee,” said Kramer.
Met Council praises MnTAP, renews investment
The Met Council has lent financial support to the program since 2012. In November we agreed to continue our support and extended the contract with MnTAP through 2025 in the amount of $315,500, for a total of $1,062,500 since 2012. Met Council funds for the MnTAP program come from the Clean Water Legacy Fund, appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature.
“Everybody wins,” said Clark. “Businesses, communities, students, the Council and partner agencies, and the environment. For these young people, the experience can be life changing.”
Through 2021, we have funded 40 summer interns, who have contributed to reducing water consumption by more than 240 million gallons of water a year and saving businesses more than $1.75 million a year.
“As a former teacher, any time that we can reach out to younger generations and get students engaged in what they hope is their future work in environmental preservation, it’s a great thing,” said Council Member Susan Vento.
It’s a great program,” agreed Council Member Wendy Wulff. “I’m glad that we’re going to be able to continue to do this important work.”
“The Council’s contribution to MnTAP will pay for 15 more interns through 2025,” said Clark. “We are very proud to be able to help provide these opportunities and invest in people and the environment for future generations.”
MnTAP: Minnesota Technical Assistance Program