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by Mary Winstead
T he stakes: Scholarship funds for spring semester 2012. The challenge: Capture on tape how you're driven to discover. The judges: Facebook users clicking "Like" to vote for their favorite student-produced video. The results: Discoveries that include reducing carbon emissions, educating tomorrow's Nobel laureates, and finding the beauty in everyday life.
In the University of Minnesota's first-ever "Driven to Discover" video competition, undergrads on the Twin Cities campus were given the chance to compete for a combined $30,000 in scholarships by creating 30-second videos that describe their hopes, passions, and discoveries. Eighty-three submissions and 16,659 votes later, 16 students came away with scholarship awards of $5,000, $2,500, and $1,000.
For first place winner Shawn Zwonar, his 1,200-mile drive home to New Jersey for winter break inspired a video that measures his personal carbon footprint. "Asking students what they are 'driven to discover' entails some deep thinking," he says. "I am driven to discover alternative fuels that will replace oil because it will reduce environmental harm, limit our dependence on foreign countries and boost our economy."
Pursuing a dual degree in chemical engineering and chemistry with a minor in management, Zwonar entered the contest to help his parents with tuition. His parents came to the U.S. from Poland, and he's the first in his family to attend college. "The scholarship eliminated my need to work this spring, so I can focus on my studies. I've never had such great news delivered to me via e-mail," he says.
Zwonar chose the University of Minnesota because the Chemical Engineering and Materials Sciences Department is one of the top-ranked programs in the nation. "I'm studying chemical engineering and management because it combines two things I'm passionate about. I'd like to start up my own consulting business someday."
Meghan Palmer titled her entry "Little Leaders: Imagination to Innovation" to introduce the idea that educators teach tomorrow's change makers. Her video pulls together a collage of images showing children dressed up as astronauts, business professionals, singers, and doctors, with brief captions that show the impact of their education on their career, invention, discovery, or accomplishment. "We are all called to make a difference in the world," Palmer says. "The U of M educates leaders, and it is up to each of us to discover what that means."/
A kinesiology major from Dallas, Texas, with a minor in speech-language-hearing sciences, Palmer works three jobs in the Twin Cities and has saved up since childhood to pay her college tuition. "Hard work and scholarships such as these will allow me to pay off my tuition without having to worry about student loans," she adds. "It was exciting to hear I had won the third place scholarship and that all of my efforts have paid off!"
Her career goal is to become an occupational therapist, working with children with developmental disabilities. "I chose this field because it combines my love of individuals with special needs with my passion for the health field."
As an artist majoring in pre-graphic design, Joel Valdez created his video to show others the beauty he sees surrounding him. "In my video, I can't decide what I want to paint," he says. "I keep pacing and thinking until I start getting ideas. These ideas are flashes of my friends, more specifically glimpses of what I find most beautiful about them. And from there I quickly get to work, furiously painting the different canvases you don't see until the end."
Valdez is a first-generation college student whose family comes from Mexico. He'd like to add minors in Spanish and sustainability studies to his coursework, but art has always been his first love. "Ever since I picked up my first pencil, I couldn't stop drawing and realized that art affirmed my sense of who I am," he says. "But art materials aren't cheap, and this semester alone I've already spent $500 on supplies. So this money will really help."
He chose the U of M because he wanted a big school with a vibrant art culture. After graduation, he hopes to become an art or creative director for a large business. "I always have been all about fine art, painting and drawing, and recently got interested in graphic design," says Valdez. "I have a passion for ideation and coming up with new visual ideas on how to portray a company. I think my design major will give me the skills to achieve my goals."