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August 31, 2006

Off-campus fires often fueled by alcohol use

Today's USA TODAY examines the causes of recent fatal fires at off-campus residences across the nation. They found that alcohol use was a common denominator:

One-quarter of these fires followed a party, and in 59% of them, at least one of the dead students had been drinking, the USA TODAY analysis found. In 21 cases in which an autopsy report showed the deceased's blood alcohol content, the median level was .12%, and the highest was .304%. A person with an alcohol reading of .08% is considered by the nation's traffic laws to be too drunk to drive.

Students who have been drinking and then go to sleep may be especially vulnerable if a fire breaks out:

Experts say that alcohol can deaden sleeping students to the sounds and smells of danger.

"Even if you wake up in time, you may not make a rational decision. You may go down a hall toward a fire instead of away. You may not remember where emergency exits are," says Steven Avato, a special agent and certified fire investigator for U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"It makes your decision-making process much harder, if you are able to respond at all."

Read the whole story.

In addition to talking to your student about alcohol use, the Parent Program offers the following fire safety points you may want to discuss with students living in off-campus dwellings:

*Are smoke detectors working? Check batteries. Do not disable smoke detectors.
*Are there fire extinguishers? Do you know how to operate them? Are they in working order? Can you reach them easily?
*Think about an escape route from each room. If the doorway to a room is blocked, what is your alternative route? If you had to exit the room through a window, would you need a fire ladder?
*The most common causes of fire are candles, cigarettes, and halogen lights. Never leave candles burning unattended and never put anything (paper, fabric, etc.) over a halogen light.
*If wiring is exposed or if you notice problems with light fixtures or appliances, contact your landlord immediately for repairs.

Homecoming 2006 planning underway

Homecoming is a wonderful time to visit the campus. Students decorate their residence hall lobbies, the Greek houses put up fantastic front yard displays, and the coronation ceremony, the parade, and the football game are fun spectacles for everyone to enjoy.

This year's theme is "Wild Wild Midwest", and the parade and game will be held on November 4. Check the official Homecoming website for updated information.

August 29, 2006

Interested in a career in the sports industry?

The Minnesota Wild and Swarm are holding a career day for college students of all majors. Every department--including marketing, management, IT, human resources, sales/service, finance, and others--will be represented.

The date is September 30th, attendance costs $20 (that includes a ticket to a Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks game), and--as they say--space is limited. Here's a flyer with all the info:

Download file

August 28, 2006

Question about optional fees

A reader sent me the following message:

Parents who pay for college tuition should be aware of Optional Fees that are tacked onto tuition bills. For example, you may want to check out groups such as MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) that are allowed to add a charge to student accounts, unless you opt out.

To that end, I would suggest checking out the "refusable/refundable" fees listed as 2006-2007 Other Fees here. I only see 2 optional fees, one for COLLEGIANS FOR A CONSTRUCTIVE TOMORROW and one for MINNESOTA PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP, listed.

Your student still looking for the perfect totebag? More suggestions

On August 22, I linked to a college style blog that had some suggestions for stylish, yet functional, backpacks and bags for students.

A helpful reader sent me a link to another college student's fashion blog, called What I Wore, and its recent entries on stylish bags: (Scroll down to the entry for 7/29/06), and

Star Tribune story on online finances course for parents

Course topics -- from how students' financial decisions affect the family finances to budgeting to banking to credit to gambling -- suggest the reasons the class is being launched: increasingly dire statistics about college students who have credit card debt, online gambling debt and can't balance a checkbook.

While online courses like this one are rare, financial education is a hot-button topic at colleges nationwide, said Jim Boyle, president of the advocacy group College Parents of America.

The course was created by Marjorie Savage, director of a program to help parents stay connected to their kids and the university, and Jodi Dworkin, a professor who studies risk in adolescents at the school's Department of Family Social Science. Topics were picked based on parent focus groups and frequent questions from parents to Savage.

It's modeled after a course they created to help parents learn how to talk to their children about alcohol. That course will soon be adopted by eight schools across the country. Another on sex and sexuality and one on spirituality will follow in years to come.

Read the rest of the story.

The course is only open to parents of University of Minnesota students. Email Marj Savage to sign up or get more information.

August 25, 2006

Annual etiquette dinner prepares jobseekers

Sponsored by the college career offices, the Career Development Network, and the Alumni Association, the annual etiquette dinner teaches students how to professionally handle a wide variety of dining situations.

This year's dinner will be held Tuesday, October 10th, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in McNamara Alumni Center's Memorial Hall. Sign-in begins at 5:00. The registration costs $14 and includes a three course meal so that students can practice what they learn.

Registration opens August 28th at Students are encouraged to register early as space is limited and this dinner is popular. The dinner is open to University of Minnesota undergraduate and graduate students.

August 24, 2006

Student borrowers' privacy compromised by glitch in government software

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — The Education Department said Wednesday that it would arrange for free credit monitoring for as many as 32,000 student loan borrowers after their personal data appeared on its website.

Terri Shaw, the department's chief operating officer for federal student aid, said the people involved were holders of federal direct student loans who used the department's loan website — — between Sunday and Tuesday.

It is the latest in a string of data thefts and security breaches affecting more than a half-dozen federal agencies in recent months.

Education Department officials blamed the breach on a routine software upgrade, conducted by contractor Affiliated Computers Services Inc., that mixed up data for different borrowers when users accessed the website. Since Sunday, 26 borrowers have complained.

Read the whole story.

August 23, 2006

Beloit College releases 2006 "Freshman Mindset" list

You've probably seen this list before--each fall Beloit College releases a compilation of cultural milestones that it believes will help illuminate the mindset of incoming college freshmen for University faculty and staff:

For most teens starting college this fall, disposable contact lenses have always been available, wars and revolutions have always been televised, and a stamp was rarely needed for communication.

Born in 1988, incoming freshmen grew up knowing only two presidents, searching for Waldo and eating dolphin-free canned tuna.

Those are some of the 75 cultural landmarks on the Beloit College Mindset List, an annual compilation that offers a glimpse of the world view through the eyes of each incoming class. The list was released Wednesday by this private school of 1,250 in this southern Wisconsin city.

"The list isn't looking strictly for chronological accuracy," said Ron Nief, the school's director of public affairs. "It's more about capturing cultural horizons and world views."

Read the Houston Chronicle story about the list. Here's a link to the list itself.

August 22, 2006

Student blogger on carry-alls for fall

If your student is trying to decide what type of tote, backpack or laptop bag to bring to school this fall, she could check out the recommendations on The College Wardrobe, a new blog written by and for college students.

Facebook, MySpace postings potentially embarrassing to parents

Today's Washington Post reports on the disconnect between parents and students when it comes to what personal information should not be shared onlined. Students' willingness to share intimate details of their lives with their peers (and anyone else who accesses their blogs) can be particularly embarrassing to parents who hold prominent positions, such as lawmakers and corporate heads:

Unlike their parents, today's youth have grown up in the age of public disclosure. Keeping an Internet diary has become de rigueur; social lives and private thoughts are laid bare. For parents in high-profile positions, however, it means their children can exploit a generational disconnect to espouse their own points of view, or expose private details perhaps their parents wish they would not.
According to [a recent] Pew study, among those who blog, 52 percent said they do so to express themselves creatively, and 50 percent said they blog to document and share their personal experiences.

"Many of them don't think they are committing public acts by posting a blog, but the power of search is that it makes it pretty darn easy to find," said Lee Rainey, founding director of Pew. Parents and increasingly school systems are warning children about the implications of posting things on MySpace, for example, he said. But parents are only starting to become aware of their own vulnerability, he said. "Things that used to be inside familiars or within a small audience now have a global audience."

August 21, 2006

Class for parents on talking to students about personal finance

The University is offering a new course for parents who want to talk to their student about financial responsibility. Financial experts agree that this is a discussions families should have before students leave home for college, the Star Tribune reports:

[M]any parents are nervous about teaching teens about credit cards because they aren't confident about it themselves, said Paul D. Jones, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Jones Marketing Group and author of "What You and Your Kids Need to Know About Credit."

No financial expert, including Jones, thinks every teenager should have a credit card. There are plenty of reasons to be leery. Eighty percent of high school seniors have never taken a personal finance class and more than a quarter of them have bounced a check, according to a survey of 5,775 teens done by the nonprofit JumpStart Coalition for Financial Literacy.

A 2004 study at the University of Minnesota showed that the number of students who do not pay off their credit-card balances each month ranged from 13 percent for freshmen to 64 percent for fifth-year seniors. The study also showed that excessive credit card debt was a stress factor for about 14 percent of students.

It's a domino effect, said David Golden, director of public health and marketing at the "U." As credit-card debt goes up, so does smoking, high-risk drinking and the number of hours worked outside of class. Debt goes up and GPA goes down, he said. Those findings were the primary reason that the university decided not to allow credit-card solicitations on campus.

While some campuses don't allow credit-card companies on campus, that doesn't stop applications that arrive by mail. Defying logic, they don't require income verification, credit history or a co-signer. Fifty-six percent of college freshmen acquire a credit card, and many of those students' parents don't realize their teens have credit cards, said Nathan Dungan, founder of Share Save Spend, a business to help youths and adults adopt healthy financial habits.

The course is available to parents of current University of Minnesota students at no charge. Parents can take the course online at their own convenience. To sign up, send an e-mail to Please indicate the course you are registering for (there is another course available on students and alcohol use), as well as your student's name and his or her University ID number or birth date. We will not maintain any record of your student's identification, but we need it to confirm U of M enrollment in order to provide you access to the course. After we confirm your student's enrollment, we will send you instructions on accessing the course.

August 16, 2006

Campus and Metro Transit officials discuss designing light rail line for maximum safety

In light of the August 7th Hiawatha line collision, the line's third in three years, officials are discussing how the proposed light rail line that will cross the University's campus can be built with optimal safety in mind, the MN Daily reports. The proposed Central Corridor line will run under Washington Avenue, and Metro Transit Chief Operating Officer Vince Pellegrin

said this along with the measures already in place should make for a safe rail line for the campus, even with the large amount of pedestrian and bike traffic.

Pellegrin said the preliminary drawings for the Central Corridor line include "good lines of sight" for the drivers and speed restrictions, things he attributes to the Hiawatha line's safety record.

The warning systems that would be in place on the new line include lights, horns, gate arms and even a light that tells the train's driver whether the signals at the crossing are working. These systems would be at vehicle and pedestrian crossings.

There are more warning signals with the light-rail trains than with other trains because unlike a freight train, the light-rail train is hard to hear when it approaches, even though it can travel faster, according to Metro Transit.

"We've gone the extra mile to integrate warning signs in our systems," Pellegrin said.

August 14, 2006

Student involvement opportunities

Encourage your student to attend the Community Involvement Fair, Wednesday, September 20th, from 10:30 a.m to 3 pm in Coffman Union's Great Hall.

Students can learn about internshp and volunteer opportunities at more than 80 local organizations working in youth education, political organizing, teaching English as a Second Language, health education, homelessness and other important issues. The event is free, and attendees can register at the door to win a $100 gift certificate from the University Bookstore.

For more info and a list of organizations attending this year's fair, go to

August 9, 2006

Computer services available to students...'s Minnesota Daily reports:

As students prepare for the upcoming semester, some find themselves preparing their computers as well - clearing them of viruses, backing up important data or buying new equipment altogether.

But even the best preparation can't always prevent disaster, which usually comes in the form of a late-night error warning or an ominously blank screen.

Whether students are looking to buy new software, secure a laptop or save whatever is left of a formerly robust MP3 collection, there are many on- and off-campus services that directly relate to students' computing needs.

Students can purchase commonly-used software at a steep discount:

There are some limitations to the deal; only currently enrolled students taking at least one credit are eligible and students aren't supposed to put the software on multiple computers.

But products that normally retail for a few hundred dollars are available to students for the cost of the CD. Microsoft Office can be downloaded for free.

August 8, 2006

Personalize a residence hall room on a budget

Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune has a story about students decorating their residence hall rooms on a budget, and shows two design students shopping at some of our local "big box" retailers (Ikea, Target, and Wal-mart) to compare and contrast:

MCAD students Dan Higgs, 21, of Wauwatosa, Wis., and Sarah Kissell, 20, of Bloomington went shopping with me two weeks ago at Ikea, Target and Wal-Mart in Bloomington. Their assignment was to choose three items from each store to furnish a dorm or apartment. The Star Tribune picked up the tab, but Higgs and Kissell could each choose only one major piece of furniture and everything had to fit in my Malibu.

At Target, Kissell, a graphic design student, praised the selection of vases, picture frames and wall hangings. Higgs and Kissell were pleasantly surprised at how masculine most of the furniture was, but Kissell prefers to shop for chairs, sofas or futons at antique shops or secondhand stores.

Higgs, who's pursuing a bachelor of science degree with a business marketing concentration, likes Target's use of designers such as Michael Graves and Isaac Mizrahi. He picked out a tray table to use as an end table, wall frames similar to the rectangles that catalog retailer West Elm made famous and an egg-shaped wall clock.

At Ikea, Higgs was in his element. The merchandise is functional, versatile and inexpensive. He and his roommates furnished an apartment mostly from Ikea. Higgs was assigned the task of assembling an entertainment center, a job he described as "pretty easy." Experienced at Ikea assembly now, Higgs admits that he still gets a piece or two wrong. He installed the bottom shelf on an entertainment center upside down.

Kissell likes Ikea's design for being modern without trying too hard. "It would be my first stop before Target and Wal-Mart," she said, "but the size of the store is overwhelming." Both liked the room settings that help shoppers mix and match the furnishings.

In a sidebar, the students grade each store's decor offerings. Ikea and Target should be pleased with their report cards; Wal-mart, in the opinion of the graders, has a little catching up to do.

August 1, 2006

High student debt correlated to health risks, lower GPAs

Twin Cities television station KARE-11 reported on the recent rise in student debt, and its detrimental effects on students both before and after graduation:

David Golden, Director of Public Health and Marketing at the University of Minnesota's Boynton Health Service Center, says at least three different student surveys have been conducted on the topic of student debt in the past three years. This past spring, a Boynton Health Services survey focused on credit card debt.

"We looked at students who are carrying high debt on their credit cards. They tend to have other problems, they are much more likely to be diagnosed with depression, tend to have higher rates of high risk drinking, higher smoking rates. Also we noticed an association between when their debt goes up, their GPA tends to go down," says Golden.

Golden says there are no hard and fast solutions to offer students, but some measures have been taken by the university. For starters, credit card companies are no longer allowed to set up tables in the student union hall to attract new cardholders. He also says a special financial advisor has been hired by Health Services to talk and counsel students on credit card debt.

All the comforts of home

What's your student bringing to campus? The Washington Post interviews college students and administrators to see what students bring with them when they move into the residence halls.