Nick Clegg, the surprising rising star of British politics, laid some of the groundwork for his career in the year he spent at the University of Minnesota two decades ago.

"He was very personable, smart and articulate," said Kathryn Sikkink, a political science professor who taught Clegg in a graduate seminar. "I'm not surprised he's done well, but this was not a guy you thought was going to someday be the prime minister of Great Britain."

After attending Cambridge University as an undergraduate, Clegg spent the 1989-90 academic year at the University of Minnesota, studying politics and international relations, Sikkink's specialty.

He stood out in a graduate seminar that focused on human rights, she said.

"Of course I remembered him clearly, but I'd forgotten how well he did in class," Sikkink said. "When I went back and looked, I saw he got the highest grade in the class -- and he was a master's student with others who were mainly Ph.D. students."

He wrote his master's thesis on "The Deep Green Movement and Its Political Philosophy."

On his Facebook page, Clegg's Minnesota stint is mentioned as one of "25 random things about Nick Clegg."