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Living a LearningLife

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Spring short courses celebrate the North Star State

Map of Minnesota.jpgThis spring, LearningLife participants will have a chance to "study" for their summer vacations with several different Minnesota-themed courses, with topics ranging from Minnesota flora to the North Shore, and more.

Says program director Lara Roy, "These classes are a great way to get to know more about our state and prepare yourself for an outstanding summer road trip season. You can gain a general overview of different regions, or dive into a more specific topic, such as songbirds or Minnesota history."

And, as a special incentive to dig deeper into all things North Star, participants who take two or more courses, will get a snack to take on the road with them--a gift box of select University of Minnesota cheeses from the St. Paul campus's Dairy Store.

Says Roy, "The cheeses are made in the University's certified dairy facility by faculty, students, and staff from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. We thought they'd show participants just one more hidden gem that the U, and this state, has to offer...and they're pretty delicious, too."

The courses eligible for the gift box are: The Untold Story of the Land That Became Minnesota; Identifying and Understanding Minnesota Flora; Minnesota's Fragile Natural Heritage; and Introduction to Minnesota Songbirds.

The Untold Story of the Land That Became Minnesota (begins April 5), led by St. Cloud State professor of history Mary Wingerd, will delve into the earliest contact between the native people and the European settlers--a story not commonly found in history books.

"In 1849, when the Minnesota Territory was established, probably fewer than 300 people in the entire territory were not related to the Indians, either by birth or marriage," Wingerd says. "The common language was a French-Indian patois, not English. Newcomers to St. Paul were astonished by how 'foreign' it seemed. Yet in just 12 short years, that bicultural society was completely eradicated. That's the 'untold' story that we're going to examine in depth."

For individuals interested in looking specifically at some of those ecological aspects, Minnesota's Fragile Natural Heritage begins April 20. Instructor Deborah Karasov, director for the conservation group Great River Greening, will discuss environmental and ecological hot-button issues facing the state.

"Anyone who cares about where future generations will be swimming, fishing, or otherwise recreating should check it out," she says.

Karasov continues, "In my organization, we say that the best time to plant a tree was
twenty years ago; the next best time is now. A lot of people want to make a difference in their lives, and Minnesota's natural heritage is a perfect realm for that. Too often we leave environmental topics to the government or to professional advocates in the environmental movement. I want this to be a course that doesn't sound like a 'science lecture,' and yet is enough of an introduction to pique individuals' interest [to get involved]," she says.

Also fitting in to the environmental and ecological theme, beginning May 11, LearningLife participants can explore the world of rough-fruited fairy bells, slender pussytoes, and pennyworts in Identifying and Understanding Minnesota Flora, taught by plant biologist Victoria Ranua. "Minnesota is home to more than 2,000 plants, ranging in size from 1/16th of an inch to hundreds of feet tall," says Ranua. The course will provide an overview of the state's native flora--big and small--as well as take students on a field trip so they can practice their newly acquired identification skills.

Finally, Bruce Fall will lead the popular course, Introduction to Minnesota Songbirds (begins May 5). Students will engage in lectures and presentations, as well as take two field trips, all of which will help them learn to find and identify dozens of different bird species, including warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, and more. The course is very popular, and often fills quickly. Enthuses past participant David Zens, "Bruce is excellent in the field. His listening skills are amazing, and he really helped us learn proper identification of specific birds."

Complete descriptions of the Minnesota-themed courses, as well as all of the other spring offerings from LearningLife, are available on the Web site and in the current catalog (available for download here).

For individuals who qualify for the cheese gift box, call 612-624-4000 to redeem your gift. Gift boxes will be sent in June. Actual cheese selection may vary and is dependent on availability.

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