“It’s bigger than normal [libraries],” said Collin Renner about the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library. It was his first visit to any of the University of Minnesota Libraries, although he has been on campus for sporting events.
The Murray Middle School student was seeking materials about the original Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul — and how it happened that Interstate 94 created a chasm in the middle of a predominantly Black community. His research in the Libraries will help develop an exhibit for Frontiers in History: People, places, ideas — this year’s History Day topic.
His friend Rohan Stebleton, whose parents work at the U of M, plans to create a website on the Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment. On Saturday, Jan. 14, Collin and Rohan were among the many middle school students:
- Rambling through Wilson Library’s halls, SMART Learning Commons, and stacks
- Running up and down stairs in their search for relevant books and journals
- Wondering how one reads microfilm
- Asking questions of librarians, parents, other adults, and history experts (including one finalist in last year’s National History Day!)
Gopherbaloo was back in person for 2023, after a couple of years being virtual-only due to the COVID pandemic. A special, one-day collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and the U of M Libraries, Gopherbaloo brings to families of History Day contenders a Mooster History mascot, opportunities to win prizes, and plenty of expertise to make their projects the best they can be.
Whether spoken, written, performed, online, or pasted on foam-core exhibit panels — History Day creations benefit from solid research and good visuals to improve their chances as the students go on to compete against other youngsters in their region, in the State of Minnesota (on April 22) and, if they are talented and fortunate, in the National History Day competition.
Taylor Fairbanks, serving as an U of M mentor to the youngsters during Gopherbaloo, did make it to the national level in 2022. She is proud that her project on the White Earth Settlement Act of 1965, which connected her Native culture to her History Day topic, was displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Unfortunately, she was not able to travel to see it — because, COVID. She’s a freshman at the U of M, with a focus on American Indian Studies.
Another U of M undergrad helping out the History Day contestants was Abigail Magnusson, a Harding High School graduate who went off to Indiana University for a time, and now has transferred to the University of Minnesota.
“It’s a really cool program,” Magnusson said of being a History Day mentor. “I went in person to the high school classroom” to offer guidance. She felt like she was “dipping my toes into history education,” which may be a career goal.
Amelia Kosel, a student from Woodbury Middle School, was seeking information about the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service, with the help of Theresa Heitz of the Libraries. They were starting small, with 4-H.
Later, we caught up with her mother, Renilda Kosel. “I can’t believe how many books there are here,” she commented. She had been browsing the stacks with her other child while Amelia was doing research. Renilda Kosel was gobsmacked by all the books, in all the languages. “And someone must get to choose them all?!” A team of folks, actually.
And, like the team that pulls together from the U of M Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society to make Gopherbaloo a stimulating experience, they work to help students of all ages reach their highest potential.