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Student Profiles

Category: Latin Honors

Vidya Rao is Senior Editor for, the website of the TODAY Show on NBC. Her exciting work has taken her across the globe to Russia, where she is currently covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Vidya graduated magna cum laude in 2004 with degrees in both African American & African Studies and Political Science, and went on to receive a a master's degree in Journalism at Columbia University. She's been with TODAY since 2008, and recently checked in to share a bit about her experience in Sochi. Read Vidya's update below, check out a slideshow featuring a few of her Sochi photos, and follow her on Twitter for more Olympic excitement from an Honors alum!

From meeting the famed "Nightmare Bear" mascot and seeing the Opening Ceremony in person to getting to know the hilarious Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski and interviewing some of the world's most amazing athletes, the Sochi Olympics has been a whirlwind adventure unlike any other.

I've worked at NBC for nearly six years, covering a variety of lifestyle and news stories at When I was brought into my boss's office last August and asked if I wanted to go, I screamed. I actually jumped up and down and screamed. As the Games grew closer, there were increasing concerns over potential terrorist attacks. Friends and family urged me to rethink going to Sochi. But if there's one thing that we all know, it's that you are never guaranteed a second chance. I wasn't about to miss the opportunity of a lifetime to see the world's biggest event in person. And because NBC is a rights holder, I knew that even as a lowly dotcom producer I'd be able to interview most of Team USA.

These athletes are amazing people, and most of them (with a couple exceptions, of course) are so down-to-earth, friendly and open, it's easy to forget that they are Olympians. They laugh and joke, share their personal stories and are open to talking about both their successes and failures—a dream for a journalist.

While the days are long—we routinely work at least 16 hours a day and don't get much sleep—the work is rewarding and well worth it. I'm coming away from this experience with so many lessons, both for my career and my life, and am truly inspired by the Olympians' stories. I'm also coming away 10 pounds heavier, thanks to the NBC commissary, which serves us up free food and the now-famous free Starbucks. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't have any hotel horror stories—my hotel room is bigger than my whole New York City apartment!

Alumni Update: Paul Stadem

February 10, 2014

Paul Stadem graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Biochemistry last spring, and was awarded a Fulbright to conduct research in Uganda.

As an undergraduate in the University Honors Program, Paul conducted research in Dr. Troy Lund's pediatric hematology/oncology/BMT lab, which is part of the Blazar Laboratory. Dr. Lund's lab worked to increase understanding of mesenchymal stromal cells and their possible roles in hematopoiesis. Paul's research culminated in the completion of his Honors Thesis: "Investigating Perivascular Cells and Mesenchymal Stromal Cells in the Danio Rerio Model Organism."

In December 2013, Paul traveled to Kampala, Uganda for a six-month Fulbright Research Grant. He's currently researching systemic markers of oxidative stress in patients with G6PD deficiency. Although the project differs significantly from the research he conducted as an undergraduate, Paul knows that his time at the University of Minnesota allowed him to develop the skills required to handle the challenges of problem solving associated with his current research. "Other members of Dr. Lund's lab had projects that focused on G6PD deficiency as well as oxidative stress using the zebrafish model organism. Although I was not directly involved in those projects, I was involved in the scientific brainstorming that accompanied research in these projects during our lab meetings," he explains.

You can follow Paul's Fulbright experience—from detailed information on his research to his personal adventures in Uganda—on his Fulbright Blog.

Congratulations, Paul—and good luck!

Benjamin VandenWymelenberg graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2012 with a B.S. in Architecture. Here he discusses the process of completing an Honors Thesis at the University of Minnesota.