Saving the environment, along with millions of dollars
MnTAP internship program helps companies save and students grow
College of Science and Engineering students are encouraged to seek internships that make an impact. A summer internship with the University-based Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) has an impact so large, they measure in millions. In 2020, MnTAP interns helped companies save a total of $4.25 million, 1.9 million pounds of waste, 27 million kilowatts of electricity per hour, and 148 million gallons of water.
Each year, MnTAP interns—many of whom are CSE students—spend a summer identifying environmental reductions and process improvements for Minnesota businesses. As a result, interns create a triple-win situation: they save companies money, reduce environmental impact, and gain valuable work experience in the process.
“Our intern program provides one of the biggest opportunities to grow as a professional while making a real impact for a Minnesota business or organization,” said Matt Domski, the MnTAP intern program manager. “[Companies] often have a sense that they have some room for improvement, but they don’t always have time to find solutions.”
Last summer, 21 students, many from CSE, were paired with companies such as Old Dutch Foods, Abbott, Post Consumer Brands. One of those students was Mason Balster, a CSE senior majoring in environmental engineering.
Saving money and gaining experience
Balster found out about the MnTAP program through the CSE Career Fair. He was paired with August Schell Brewing Company, and spent his summer finding ways in which the company could improve water use efficiency and wastewater treatment processes.
While breweries sell a lot of beer, they also have to get rid of a lot of beer—whether expired, unusable, or unsold. Balster found a way to improve the current beer disposal process, saving the business money and increasing efficiency.
“Beer they didn’t sell all went down the drain, and beer is high in organic content, so they faced surcharges,” Balster said. “We found a company that recycles packaged products by crushing and repurposing cans and sending the liquids to ethanol plants or anaerobic digesters.”
At the end of his internship, Balster presented his findings and recommendations, which would result in potential savings totaling more than $200,000 annually.
While his work gave August Schell Brewing Co. a brighter outlook on its future, Balster also left with a renewed passion for environmental engineering.
“One of the biggest impacts the internship had on me was steering my interests within the major,” he said. “It all just became so much more interesting after having a real-life experience with it.”
The internship also set him up with his current part-time job at MnTAP working with wastewater treatment plants in Minnesota. In addition to its internship program, MnTAP hires experienced staff members to help Minnesota companies find solutions to maximize their resources through energy, water, and waste reduction year-round.
“I absolutely recommend the program because it’s a unique opportunity. I don't think that there are any internships that are independently run as these projects could be,” Balster said. “This makes you learn fast and learn a new way of thinking about problems.”
The University of Minnesota’s Technical Assistance Program is located in the McNamara Alumni Center on the Twin Cities campus. The program is currently offering its services to businesses both in-person and virtually. To learn more, or find out how you can get involved, visit the MnTAP website.
Story by Kathryn Richner
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