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I'm a true Midwesterner, and enjoy the winter months. I love skiing, ice fishing, the works. I love the changing seasons, snowy holidays, and the breathtaking landscape. But when mid-February arrives, I can't help but think about how nice it would be to be sitting on a beach somewhere...just for a couple of days. I'm sure many of you are currently feeling the same way! 

If you're craving a winter escape, the University of Minnesota has study abroad opportunities for you to do just that! Many U of M students spend their winter break studying abroad in warmer climates, immersing themselves in new cultures, and earning college credit. One example is a study abroad seminar called "Riviera Maya: It's Land. It's People."

During the seminar, "students visit ancient Maya archaeological sites of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, learn about Indigenous worldviews of the environment, participate in seminars on environmental sustainability, learn about local eco-systems and water quality, and explore the Yucatan's fringe reef system, lagoons, and caves (cenotes)."

It sounds like a fantastic way to spend winter break to me! Check out the class blog to see pictures of the students' experiences along with many interesting stories. (Be sure to take a look at the photo of the group in the underground cave. Amazing!)

Congratulations to the College of Biological Sciences iGEM team! In November, the team of five won the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after competing against 130 student teams from 25 countries around the world. The competition, hosted annually at the MIT, requires teams to engineer a biological machine that could successfully work in a living cell, and the University of Minnesota's team rose to the challenge! Check out this article highlighting this incredible achievement.

Wondering how you might be able to get involved in research opportunities like this iGEM? Take a look at my previous post called "The world of biology is a world of opportunities" to discover some amazing opportunities in biology at the U of M. There are research opportunities all over campus for all undergraduates, no matter their specific area of study. For instance, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program enables students to conduct research throughout their college careers and paid by earning stipends. 

One of the many benefits of being in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) is that you're not just a part of the College. You're a student of the University of Minnesota! You have access to outstanding faculty and students in more than 135 different academic programs. The collaboration of these minds can lead to some amazing discoveries.

A unique partnership between the College of Science and Engineering, the Medical School, and the College of Education and Human Development has faculty performing research using the Xbox Kinect.

Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, a professor in the Computer Science and Engineering department, explains, "Researchers and scientists believe that psychiatric disorders display subtle physical abnormalities in childhood well before the onset of a full disorder. We believe that we can use new computational tools, including computer vision and robotics, with a unique new computer vision algorithm to observe and detect abnormalities in motor and emotion in children to automatically analyze them for abnormalities."

Traditionally, we have relied on experts watching video tapes of children's movements to diagnose psychiatric disorders, but this new cross-disciplinary research offers a solution to the subjectivity of that approach. This kind of ground-breaking research is happening every day across our campus, and everyone from undergraduate to post-doctoral students has an opportunity to be part of it.

To learn more about research projects and events in CSE, check out the recent news releases on our website.

In my last year at the University of Minnesota, I joined the student group Women in Mathematics (WIM). Through this group, I found out about a lot of awesome events, speakers, and other professional organizations. That's why joining student groups is so important - they help you create a community on campus!

Through WIM, I was able to hear about an essay contest being hosted by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Math for America (MfA). 

To give you some background on these organizations...

AWM is a non-profit organization founded in 1971 to encourage women and girls in the mathematical sciences.  AWM has grown to over 3,000 members from the US and around the world.

MfA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving mathematics education in US public schools. Their vision is to "dramatically change mathematics and science education over the next decade throughout America in order to keep our country competitive."  MfA Fellows spend one year earning a master's degree in education and four years teaching math in public secondary schools.

Back to the essay contest...

The essays will be based on interviews with contemporary female mathematicians or statisticians in academic, industrial, or government careers. The hope is that this will "increase awareness of women's ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences."

The contest is open to students in grades 6-8, grades 9-12, and undergraduate college students. At least one winning essay will be chosen from each of those categories and be published on the AWM website. A grand prize winner will be chosen and published in the AWM newsletter.

The deadline for the essay contest is February 27, 2011! I'm not eligible to participate, but I am very excited to read the winning entries. If you want to hear about the lives of some phenomenal women, check out the winning essays from 2010.

Are you interested in participating in an off-campus study experience, but don't want to travel halfway around the world? At the University of Minnesota, you can! The University of Minnesota's off-campus study programs allow students to exchange and study at affiliated universities all over North America for a semester, or even year.

For instance, the National Student Exchange program allows students to exchange at  universities across the United States (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico), as well as Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada! As a former biology major, I think it would have been amazing to study marine biology at California State University Monterey Bay for a semester. Or, spend a year mastering Spanish at one of the several universities in Puerto Rico.

Off-campus study programs are an excellent opportunity to enrich your undergraduate experience, meet new friends, take courses that are specific to a certain geographic area (such as marine biology), and simply experience college life in another place--and then return home to the U of M!

Click here to learn more.

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