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Bird is the Word

...or, how of one of the great American success stories is right in our own backyard.

If you're looking for an epic adventure story filled with oohs and ahs, the best one going, says Amber Burnette, isn't one filmed in Hollywood and playing on the big screen...but rather one taking place much closer to home--in part, at the U of M's Raptor Center.

Burnette, an environmental educator and program associate at the Center, is talking about the rise and fall--and rise again--of the peregrine falcon.

falcon_nighttime.jpg"You need a parental warning sticker on how cool peregrines are...and how cool the story of their recovery is," she says. "It's the best summer blockbuster story ever told. More exciting than The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. Drama, intrigue, action, heartbreak, triumph...and, of course, the Average Joe being the one who saves the day. And The Raptor Center has been a big part of it with the peregrine reintroduction program."

It might sound like hyperbole, but Burnette's description is an accurate one.

LearningLife takes a not-so-"crumby" peek into the lives of two outstanding YA fiction authors

What happens when you take two successful authors (and LearningLife instructors) and put them in a room with an intrepid interviewer? Chaos? Hilarity? Thoughtful conversation? A Brit-Lit-slinging, metaphor-mixing steel-cage match?

As it turns out...a little bit of all of that. (Well, minus the steel-cage match--all parties involved maintained a civil demeanor, and nary a wall was climbed, nor a chair thrown.)

Geoff Herbach, author of the Stupid Fast series (Stupid Fast, Nothing Special, and I'm With Stupid), is a past recipient of the Minnesota Book Award. His Stupid Fast books have been named the year's best by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, Booklist, and numerous state library associations.

Also a Minnesota Book Award honoree, Julie Schumacher is the author of The Body Is Water, an ALA Notable Book of the Year, as well as a short story collection and five novels for younger readers, including Grass Angel; The Book of One Hundred Truths; Black Box; and The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls.
Geoff and Julie 2.JPG
The pair will each lead a session of the upcoming book-club-style short course, Sweet Summer: The Books of Our Youth (An Intergenerational Book Club). The course, which begins June 30, is a tribute to those books that captured our imaginations when we were young--and never quite left us, even as we grew old(er). Schumacher and Herbach will helm discussions about their own favored books of days gone by: The Secret Garden (Schumacher) and The Catcher in the Rye (Herbach).

In a unique twist, participants in the book club are encouraged to share the experience with a young person--be they a daughter or son, niece or nephew, grandchild, or friend--and bring them along to join in the conversation (tuition-free).

This month Herbach and Schumacher sat down for a roundtable talk with LearningLife e-news about a little bit of everything--from the course itself to their lives as writers to what, exactly, a moldy VW bus smells like.

We might have the evidence, says LearningLife instructor James Norwood, but are we asking the right questions?

Let's get this one thing straight, right off the bat--the "C" word that often goes hand-in-hand with many discussions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (that's "conspiracy," in case you were wondering), will not appear in this story.

At least not in information coming from James Norwood, retired U of M humanities professor and instructor for the upcoming LearningLife course The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: An Event That Changed History (begins Oct. 24; also featured in the Sept. 19 Fall Sampler).

JFK limo.pngThe mystery surrounding that fateful day in November isn't an Area-51-esque result of some secret shadow organization conspiracy, he says, but here are plenty of other "C" words involved: controversy, conflict, confusion...

Grandpa John Tells All

Ruminations, contemplations, and other cool stuff from LearningLife "super student" John Harris.

Sit down with John Harris for a couple of hours, and you'd best be prepared to talk about...well, just about anything. World travel. Linguistics. Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. Photography. Homeschooling. Horses. Books (and books of every stripe, from high literature to pop detective fiction...even some chick lit, "it's really just a good thriller novel, once you skip over some of the romancy bits"). Current events. Medicine. Wikileaks. Wikipedia. Celebrities. Politics. The relative merits of a mountain vacation over a beach one. Interest rates and the recession. Ayn Rand...

John Harris Small.jpgIt's not surprising, given his history, that this dedicated LearningLife veteran is a veritable walking "Wikipedia Game." He credits his parents with instilling in him both an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, as well as a sense of wanderlust that has taken him (literally) around the world.

Born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1933, Harris grew up in Missouri ("Missour-uh"), graduated from high school in California, and attended college in Colorado. Then, he took a break, traveled the globe, returned to California, and for most of the last fifty-plus years, has made a home in Minnesota. Through it all, he has always looked for new ideas to explore. "I suppose you could call me a perennial student," he says.

It's "all aboard," as LearningLife takes a scenic tour of Minnesota's most iconic and historical railways

4-38 2719 & ore train.jpgThey say "a penny saved is a penny earned," but for LearningLife instructor Steve Glischinski, that "penny saved" earned him a career to go with it.

"My dad was frugal. Or..." laughs Glischinski, "cheap."

"I grew up in the Highland Park neighborhood [in St. Paul], and back then, garbage service was something like $1 a month. He didn't want to pay that much, and discovered that if you took the garbage down to the Pig's Eye landfill yourself, it was only 50 cents.

"So, every Saturday, we'd get in the car, go drop off the trash, and then since the landfill was right near the Milwaukee Road railroad yard, he'd take my brother and me over to watch the trains."

As a result of these Saturday morning family outings, Father and Brother Glischinski developed a lifelong interest in trains. Young Steven Glischinski developed... "an obsession. My wife would call it an obsession."

More than 45 years after that first train yard visit Glischinski is still immersed in the railway culture. He just published his seventh book on the subject, Minnesota Railroads: A Photographic History, 1940-2012 (University of Minnesota Press), he is a regular contributor and correspondent for Trains Magazine and Trains.com, and this summer, he will be leading the LearningLife day-long immersion, All Aboard: A Colorful History of Railroads in Minnesota (Aug. 7).

Robert Elde, Saturday Morning Seminar speaker and dean of the College of Biological Sciences asks, "Are We Intrinsically Violent?"

Thumbnail image for Robert P. EldePh.D.jpgWarfare and violence have been part of human society for so long that one might wonder if they are inevitable, an intrinsic characteristic of the human mind. From the Crusades to the French Revolution, from the Holocaust to today's suicide bombers, it seems that a propensity towards violent behavior can be found in cultures throughout history and around the world.

So, is there hope for us? Are we an intrinsically violent species? And if so, does the answer lie in mitigating our behavior, our genetics, or something else entirely?

Dr. Robert Elde, dean of the U's College of Biological Sciences (CBS), tackles those questions and more at the Saturday Morning Seminar, Are We Intrinsically Violent on April 13, on the St. Paul campus.

mondale_jacobs_original.jpgThe LearningLife Forum: Witness to History series will kick off 2011 with a true Minnesota luminary: former U.S. Vice President, Senator, and Ambassador Walter Mondale.

Mondale will be interviewed by the Humphrey Institute's Larry Jacobs. Jacobs is director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, an expert in American political history and policy, and the author of 10 books.

Many LearningLife participants will know that this will not be the first time the two have teamed up: Mondale and Jacobs have been Headliners and Great Conversations presenters, and each spring for the last several years, Mondale and Jacobs have co-taught a popular undergraduate course at the U focusing on national security issues and public policy.

Says director of LearningLife programming Margy Ligon, "When [they] spoke at a Headliners event last year, the audience gave them a spontaneous standing ovation. As one participant said, 'the Mondale/Jacobs Headliners event was simply extraordinary. I actually had tears in my eyes because of the privilege of hearing Mondale speak in such an intimate, informal setting.'"

by Megan Gerst Rocker

This winter, LearningLife short course participants can go around the world in a day--or two or three, if they wish.

Aaron Doering.jpgFebruary 24 kicks off Adventure Travel: Three Stories, a miniseries-style short course featuring speakers and instructors who travel to exotic parts of the world as an integral part of their lives and work.

The miniseries is a new format for LearningLife: the course as a whole is unified by a common theme, but each night of the course features a stand-alone topic and participants have the option of registering for one, two, or all three of the meetings. (See end of story for registration links to each meeting.)

Says LearningLife program director Lara Roy, "Depending on their schedules and/or interests, people can get a taste of a theme...or savor the whole experience."

The first session (February 24) features Aaron Doering (pictured), U of M associate professor and designer and founder of the GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series and the new Earthducation Series.

Doering, who has dogsledded and skied thousands of miles across the Arctic in order to educate students and bring attention to global climate change and sustainability, will showcase his adventure learning programs, which he began in 2004.

"As a former social studies teacher, I recognized early on that students and adults around the world needed an opportunity to learn about global climate change, sustainability, and the impact each individual is having on this issue," he says.

"During my morning run years ago, I had an epiphany: educators needed to tie real-world experiences to a curriculum that affords collaboration among learners in an online learning environment... thus, 'adventure learning' was born."

Since then, Doering has led online education programs from such locales as Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, and Burkina Faso, Africa.

The amazing peaks of the Himalayas will be the destination on March 10, as longtime Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar describes how he got his start in adventure travel, visiting such exotic locations as the Andes and the Himalayas.

Jack El-hai.jpgSplit Rock Arts Program instructor Jack El-Hai has made a successful career out of "telling the great untold stories" in science and medicine. For the author of many medical science books, articles, and essays, writing scientific nonfiction is a spellbinding form of storytelling.

"Medical science is inherently dramatic--you have at least two engaged protagonists: the sick person and the one helping. You have a host of interesting conflicts...between the protagonists and their own internal conflicts, and between the medical personnel and the community. Stories about medical science really are true-life, life-and-death tales."

It was during the writing of one such dramatic tale, his most recent book, The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness (John Wiley & Sons, 2005), that El-Hai became interested in the intersection of an individual's career and his or her personal life. "Here was this story of a brilliant medical mind [Walter Freeman] who became obsessed. The story shows a real parallel between the rise and fall of Freeman's career and of lobotomy as a common medical practice, with the rise and collapse of Freeman's personal life.

Galapagos.JPG"Ask a historian, a biology buff, and an avid traveler to make a "bucket list," and chances are all three will share a common destination: the Galápagos Islands.

Situated on the equator, about 620 miles west of Guayaquil, Ecuador, the islands and their unique flora and fauna gained widespread public notoriety after being described by Charles Darwin in his 1839 book, The Voyage of the Beagle.

The archipelago is young, geologically speaking; it also is distinctive in that it is one of the few places in the world without an indigenous human population. Those attributes, coupled with the multitudes of endemic species found there, have made it a wonderland of information for biologists, historians, geologists, and others.

Barco Xpedition 117.jpgThe islands are so valuable that Ecuador has set aside virtually the entire archipelago as a national park and UNESCO made the Galápagos its first World Heritage Site.

Says Randy Moore, U professor of biology and LearningLife short-course instructor for Galápagos! Walking in Darwin's Footsteps, "words cannot fully describe the richness of the place. It's hard to take it all in. Discovering new places, new things, new animals and plants, exploration...that stuff isn't ancient history--it's right there in Galápagos.