Learning is all in the family at Grandparents University

July 14, 2009

by Kate Dixon

The year 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, and grandparents and grandchildren will mark the occasion by learning about celestial objects as part of the ninth annual Grandparents University (GPU) at UW-Madison.

"Modern astronomy gives us insights into deep questions that people have always had about who we are, what we are, where we came from, and so on," says Jim Lattis, director of the UW Space Place and instructor for this year's astronomy major at GPU. "The grandparents have already thought about those questions and want to know more. The kids will eventually think about them, and we want to start them on their way with the best that modern science can offer."

Astronomy is just one of the 19 majors to be offered during this year's sold-out GPU sessions, when more than 850 grandparents and grandchildren from all over Wisconsin and the world come to Madison to learn together from university experts and share a campus experience. In all, participants will arrive from 19 different U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as Israel and Scotland.

The sessions will take place on Thursday and Friday, July 16-17; and Thursday and Friday, July 23-24. The award-winning annual program is co-hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and UW-Extension Family Living Programs.

"The experience at Grandparents University continues to engage families year after year," says Jeff Wendorf, vice president for programs and outreach at the Wisconsin Alumni Association. "Nine grandparents are returning for their ninth year, and we'll celebrate the 10th anniversary of Grandparents University next summer. In the last decade, GPU at UW-Madison has also inspired similar programs at several universities in Wisconsin and around the country."

During two days, grandparents and children ages 7-14 will:

  • Share hands-on learning activities;
  • Attend a Badger picnic and take part in evening activities;
  • Stay overnight in a university residence hall; and
  • Earn a "degree" in one of 19 offered majors.

"Clearly, the mixing of generations is unusual and valuable," Lattis says. "The grandparents get to help the kids in the exploring of the world that is so important in life, and the kids get to benefit from the attention and experience of the grandparents, who bring a lifetime of learning how to learn."

Learners will create art projects, handle insects, explore Lake Mendota and work with animals, among other activities. New majors this year include nutritional science, turf and soil science, dendrology and nanotechnology, and majors in music and astronomy are returning by popular demand.

"Grandparents University participants, young and old, have the unique opportunity to spend time together that they otherwise may not have, and to share a valuable educational experience," says Michele Dickinson, outreach specialist for Family Living Programs. "The grandparents, many of whom are also UW alumni, often share memories about their days as UW-Madison students with their grandchildren."

At the end of each session, GPU participants receive diplomas at a graduation celebration and ceremony, which features "deans" from each of the majors.

Attendees can also tour Madison destinations, including Allen Centennial Gardens, Camp Randall, Chazen Museum of Art, Geology Museum, Kohl Center, Wisconsin State Capitol, Wisconsin Historical Museum, Wisconsin Veterans Museum or a campus walking tour of historical buildings.