In one of Dr. Stanley Rothrock's recent classes at Inver Hills Community College, a student just back from Afghanistan sang Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This." The war veteran had included the lyrics in a letter to his family when he was pretty convinced he would not make it back.

"The whole class was in tears," Rothrock said.

Later, the student "ended up singing it for some of his platoon buddies," he said. "Apparently, they loved it."

In a Thursday talk, "Music: Healing, Powerful and Highly Personal," Rothrock discusses the power of music and features performances by this student and others.

"Our student body is pretty unique and diverse, so I'm learning as much from them as they do from me," he said.

The department doesn't have a degree program, so his voice and piano students often take classes, he said, "because it's new or think it's going to be fun." One student took a class to deal with a recent job loss. Another sang an African folk song he'd never heard before. One recently wrote a Philip Glass-inspired composition that he called "the most extraordinary thing I've heard from a student."

The event is part of the "Interesting People, Interesting Conversations" series, a series of free lectures open to the public.

"So many people who live around the college, they've never been there," said Dick Graham, coordinator of the Academy of Lifelong Learning program at Inver Hills. Spring lectures include talks by people like Justice Paul H. Anderson.

Dakota County features plenty of other free upcoming lectures and programs on science, personal finance, zoology, ecology and history.

Dakota County Libraries just began the adult portion of their "Know Your Money" series, and upcoming speakers discuss personal finance on Wednesday and basic investing concepts on Thursday.

On Dec. 4, finance guru Chris Farrell, economics editor for American Public Media's "Marketplace Money," speaks at the Burnhaven library.

"Money and financial programs are really relevant," said Russ Cogar, Dakota County Libraries adult services coordinator. "People are very cautious with their spending."

The series extends into the spring with lectures, including one by Gail Marks Jarvis, personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Cogar said the grant that funded the series requires them to use nonprofit and unbiased resources.

"It's not like you are going to the bank and they are trying to sell you something," he said.

On Tuesday, local science guru and chemist Jane Copes will talk atomic theory and DNA in West St. Paul. "Anyone who is a cook is a chemist, whether you recognize it or not," she said. She'll use chapters from Bill Bryson's bestseller, "A Short History of Nearly Everything," as a jumping off point for the talk. She said she will make models of atoms out of candy and plans to have people look at their own DNA under a microscope.

Tonight, Rosemount resident, author and former political cartoonist Craig MacIntosh gives a veteran's day talk at the Rosemount Area Arts Council about an expedition he joined with MIA Hunters, an organization that has sought to locate and aid in the return of World War II American servicemen missing in action.

And the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley just kicked off their free World Speakers series. Though the next talk, featuring two naturalists who hiked around Lake Superior and will interpret what they found, isn't until January, registration begins a month in advance. Other future lectures include "Moose Mysteries: Understanding an Iconic Minnesota Mammal," "Can We Feed the World and Sustain the Planet?" and "An Ape's View of the Congo Basin."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a freelance writer.