The first thing that most people in New England say when they think of Minnesota is “Aren’t there a lot of lakes there or something?” If they’re a little more familiar with the state, maybe they mention the Mall of America, hockey, or the State Fair. If they know someone from this seemingly foreign region of the country, they will say “Oh, you mean MinnesOta” and throw in an “uffda” here and there for fun.
This summer I spend ten weeks at the University of Minnesota as part of the Neural Systems Engineering Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSE REU) under the umbrella of Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program (LSSURP). I cannot recommend this program enough to fellow undergraduate students looking for a well-structured, amazingly informative, and honestly transformative way to spend the summer.
Why should you care about my summer? Well, if you’ve made it this far I would guess you’re invested enough to continue reading. I like to think I’m funny; I laugh at my own jokes.
My flight from Logan was at the crack of dawn. I touched down in the Twin Cities a few hours later. An hour after checking into the residence hall, all 62 of us dazed and confused sheep from all over the country were herded onto a bus and driven several hours north.
Enter Lake Itasca. It is here that the Mississippi River is born, thousands of miles from the Gulf where it spills out. It is here that we were taken to spend the next four days, away from civilization and internet. It is here that I started to develop the friendships that would see me through the next months away from family, familiar places and familiar faces. One day I will return and see the eagles nesting and wade through the bogs and cross the headwaters of the Mississippi River on foot again.
The days here were full of sun and stars and swarms of mosquitoes. At night the sky was so thick with these nasty bloodsuckers that we could have started an interpretive dance club based on how each person preferred to swat them away. The volleyball games we played until dusk had turned to black, and the bonfires where we roasted s’mores and the cutthroat canoe races were memories I will treasure with me.
I did plenty of hard research and my final poster and abstract were serious contributions to the field of biomechanics, but the people I met were what made this program exceptional. From the program coordinator to the graduate student mentor I was assigned, each and every person made an impact on my life. I found that I am interested in pursuing a PhD, and I found out what that really entails. I talked to people from different regions of the country and even the world, people of extraordinary diversity who taught me what it means to respect everyone.
I might not want to live in Minnesota for the rest of my life (I love my small New England towns and moderate seasons too much), but I will be forever grateful to the people I met in this state so far away. Thank you, Minnesota. But most especially, thank you LSSURP for giving me the opportunity to learn and to grow in ways I never expected but needed so much. You taught me more than just the research process; you taught me how to be a better woman, engineer, and human.