Hey Randy - Glad that you're liking Mint Mate.
I switched from Windows 7 to Linux Mint 13 KDE few months ago and have been enjoying Mint since. Am a pure desktop user (no programming background unlike you
) and am enjoying Mint as it is fast, functional and highly configurable. I had no exposure to terminal earlier and now am slowing getting acquainted with the commands and able to get things done faster. (I have since upgraded my kernel to 3.8 and KDE to 4.10.1
In my case, i think, duckduckgo is enabled by default as search engine and I dont mind as i append !g to search in google, !gi to search google images, !a for amazon etc.
Also, below are links of custom search engines that help me in searching linux related topics. http://home.windstream.net/joelwest/http://www.google.com/cse/home?cx=017607476515012185699:b_owgx6xyi0
I suppose, since you're a comp. sci. student, perhaps you can even contribute to the Mint community either in development or helping new users like me in forums.