Chicago State University: Something is Fishy

Chicago State University: Something is Fishy
Fish University at CSU
Emmanuel Pratt at work
Emmanuel Pratt leading kids to enjoy science

It’s no secret that I’m an advocate for sustainability.  I happen to think green is sexy. I cruise the web looking for articles on building with bamboo, solar energy, wind energy.  I love the stuff but recently I discovered some real green excitement taking place in a little known area of south Cottage Grove Avenue.  It’s a dilapidated old shoe factory; about 50,000 square feet of cracked concrete, buckling parquet wood butcher block floors, industrial windows and lots of dust.  I love it!  It’s not the disadvantaged, urban, downtrodden face it shows but the creative energy radiating in this place that stirs my soul.

Though the young man who operates the space would argue with the label I am about to lay on him, I’m doing it anyway.  Emmanuel Pratt is a lightweight genius.  I say lightweight only because I think, in fact I know he has not yet reached his full potential.  He has degrees in architecture; is a PhD candidate in urban planning and has lived all over the world and traveled with Will Allen, the urban agriculture guru, to learn aquaponics and urban agriculture.  I wasn’t surprised to find out he is the Executive Director of Sweet Water Foundation located in Milwaukee and Chicago.  Before I forget to mention it, he’s also an artist, videographer and the hat he seems to enjoy the most is educator.  The last title on this blog is what inspired this blog.  I should say set of blogs because there is no way to let my readers know all the good and fishy things going on at 9601 South Cottage Grove in that dilapidated shoe factory now part of Chicago State University.


About a year ago Emmanuel Pratt started transforming the space to house aquaponic growing systems.  This is not a commercial operation.  It’s a learning center.  Emmanuel and his very tiny staff works with over 25 Chicago public schools to teach kids the sciences by using aquaponic systems to grow fish and vegetables.  I had the pleasure of attending presentations put on by three of the participating schools.  These young people are learning science the easy way.  As one young woman from Whitney Young stated, “this is fun”!

This teaching method (experiential learning) is not confined to the magnet school group or brainiacs in science and math.  One of the participating teams at the presentation was composed of kids who were in an alternative school for drop outs.  Their academic achievements are phenomenal.  Their aquaponics club received so much recognition that the city has donated eight lots to the kids on which to expand the urban agriculture program.

Emmanuel and his team from Sweet Water Foundation just clinched the coveted MacArthur Digital Media Learning award.  They will be working with Mozilla to create a digital platform and badge based educational curriculum to train individuals in aquaponics.   I couldn’t say it better than the quote below from the Sweet Water Foundation website:

The program will support the requirements of Common Core Learning, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM), IMS Interoperability Standards, and Open Standards. This model will meet the growing needs of lifelong learners to help improve their professional, academic and personal endeavors. Ultimately, this system to encourage learning that will help current and future generations address the growing concerns/implications of food sourcing and healthy food availability around the world.

This is quite a goal and I have no doubt that Emmanuel Pratt and his team will be forging ahead and making a difference.

If you are unfamiliar with aquaponics, take a look at this Ted X Charlie Price on Aquaponics and explore the site in Milwaukee or make an appointment to tour the facility at Chicago State University (773) 437-3952

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