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Student program helps businesses

Students get a quality education and then leave their rural community in search of a job. Businesses in rural America face increasing pressures to remain viable and competitive in today’s global environment, while dealing with continually rising energy costs. These well-documented scenarios come up in nearly every discussion about the challenges facing rural America.

Since 2001, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Pollution Prevention Intern Program has made progress on both of these priorities. The program matches students, based on their coursework, experience and technical skills, to environmental protection projects that have been identified by businesses and institutions, as well as the program’s pollution prevention engineers.

Key Points

Unique internship program gives students hands-on experience in energy saving.

Students analyze energy efficiency of the company and how to improve it.

For 10 years this program has been a model of innovative environmental action.

“A total of 250 interns have helped 150 companies in Iowa save more than $66 million by recommending projects that conserve resources and improve processes, with dramatic environmental results,” says Jeff Fiagle, program team leader with the Iowa DNR. With the assistance of pollution prevention engineers, interns assess their company’s processes to determine wastestreams, evaluate options for waste reduction, work with management and employees to determine feasibility of various options, and develop cost comparisons.

Environmentally, this confidential and nonregulatory program has helped companies save more than 1 billion gallons of water, 312 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 6.8 million therms of energy, as well as reduce solid waste output by 200,000 tons and hazardous waste by 1.5 million gallons and 560 tons.

An award-winning program

“For the past 10 years this program has been a model of innovative environmental partnerships and has won numerous regional and national honors, including the Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Award from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable,” Fiagle says.

The 2012 program, which will match about 20 interns with businesses in the state, will be funded, in part, through two USDA Rural Development grants totaling $149,552. “We are pleased to be assisting this important energy-savings program,” says Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development state director in Iowa. “The program places top college students with Iowa businesses that are dedicated to environmental excellence and want to identify cost-effective ways to cut or eliminate waste.”

Funds are coming from the USDA’s Rural Business Opportunity Grant program and the Rural Energy for America Program. In 2011 nearly $7 million in grants were awarded through these two programs.

American Packaging Corp. in Story City has participated in the internship program for three years. “It is a great internship where you can make a real difference for a company and the environment,” says Jake Smith, who interned with the company in 2011. “You also get to be independent with your projects and make them your own.”

Unique learning opportunity

Interns at American Packaging have recommended ways to increase the efficiency of the plant’s mechanical systems and ultimately reduce the company’s energy bills.

The Pollution Prevention Intern Program is a win-win for everyone involved, and all Iowans benefit from the lasting environmental benefits this partnership creates, say Fiagle. “Businesses benefit from the talent, hard work, and fresh perspectives and cost savings that the interns’ projects offer,” he adds. “A fresh set of eyes can provide cost-saving alternatives that also can bring about environmental improvement.”

Also, environmental improvement projects assisted through this program often provide cost savings to the companies.

Eligible businesses for this program must have 100 or more employees, or have annual energy costs exceeding $1 million per year. Graduate or upper-level undergraduate students who are enrolled in engineering disciplines, and environmental science or physical science majors are encouraged to apply.

Internships typically begin in May with 12- or 24-week project opportunities. Types of energy-saving projects identified as a result of the program have included lighting retrofits; boiler efficiency; heating, ventilation and cooling efficiency; and optimization of a compressed air system. Other projects conducted include water conservation and wastewater treatment, interior and exterior thermographic analysis, solid waste reduction and handling, process improvements, and hazardous chemical analysis and replacement.

For more information, visit and search the Pollution Prevention Intern Project. Also, contact Jeff Fiagle at or call 515-281-5353. Another contact is Danielle Dilks at or call 515-281-8063.

Leach is public information coordinator with USDA Rural Development.

USDA’s REAP applications due

Since 2002, USDA Rural Development has awarded $130 million in guaranteed loans and grants to help more than 700 small businesses, organizations and producers in Iowa reduce energy costs by making energy-efficiency improvements, as well as installing renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, geothermal and solar.

Applications for the agency’s 2012 Rural Energy for America Program are due March 30. Call 515-284-4663 or visit for additional information. Funding for projects awarded through REAP will be limited in 2012 due to changes in how the program is being administered.


REAL WORLD: Jake Smith was an intern at American Packaging Corp. last year. His work focused on ways to reduce the company’s energy costs. “I learned a lot. It was real-world experience,” he says.

Daniel Newkirk, who interned with Montezuma Manufacturing in 2011, helped the company identify ways to improve operating efficiencies to reduce energy consumption and utility costs at the plant.

This article published in the March, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.