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Families create special memories at Grandparents University

July 17, 2008

In the last few years, Rex and Marthe Jones have stood alongside as their grandchildren picked up hissing cockroaches, scaled rock-climbing walls and learned to stage a fistfight.

This summer, they’re heading back for more adventures at the annual Grandparents University (GPU), where grandparents and grandchildren share a campus experience as they learn together from University of Wisconsin–Madison experts.

The award-winning annual conference is co-hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) and UW-Extension Family Living Programs.

Grandparents University brings families to campus for a unique experience.

“I’m really thrilled sometimes with the majors that are chosen because I’m interested myself,” says Rex Jones, a WAA member and a 1975 graduate of UW–Madison. “Not only do grandchildren get the educational experience and the exposure to UW–Madison and the campus and this notion of higher education, but it’s just you and the grandchild hanging out and relating to each other and creating your own special memories.”

The 2008 session of Grandparents University will include three, two-day sessions, allowing more grandparents and grandchildren to attend than ever before. More than 900 participants will take part in 18 different majors — up from the 150 participants and four majors offered when GPU first began.

“This is our eighth year and we have grown every year by about 100 people, or more,” says Sarah Schutt, senior director of Wisconsin Alumni Lifelong Learning, a partnership of WAA and the UW–Madison Division of Continuing Studies. “It’s really important for us to be able to accommodate as many people as are interested in having the UW experience. We’re really excited by the demand and the popularity of GPU.”

The sold-out sessions of Grandparents University will take place at UW–Madison today and Friday, July 17-18; Monday and Tuesday, July 21-22; and Thursday and Friday, July 24-25.

“The key to GPU’s popularity is the opportunity it provides grandparents and grandchildren to be together, learning in the stimulating UW–Madison environment,” says Bonnie Geyer, a senior outreach specialist for UW-Extension Family Living Programs.

For two days, grandparents and children ages 7-14 will share in hands-on learning activities like landscape painting, building rockets, making cheese and ice cream, and working with animals. Participants meet current UW–Madison students and have the chance to stay in the new Ogg Hall, and everyone earns a “diploma” on graduation day.

Jones, with his wife, Marthe, and four grandchildren, has attended Grandparents University for five years. He says the family often recalls memories from their participation in several different majors.

“My wife was with two granddaughters in veterinary science putting their hands through the side of the cow,” Jones says, describing a popular demonstration at the School of Veterinary Medicine. “That was one of those impressive moments they’ll never forget.”

This year, Jones is looking forward to learning about rocket science with his oldest granddaughter, while his wife and two other grandchildren learn about lakes in the limnology major.

Dairy science, stem cells and regenerative medicine, and textile design are new majors to be offered at Grandparents University this year. Other majors include art, biotechnology, botany, climate history, engineering, entomology, food science, meteorology, microbiology, physics, theatre and drama, veterinary medicine and wildlife ecology.

This year, about 76 percent of the grandparents and 63 percent of the grandchildren are from Wisconsin. In all, participants come from 15 different U.S. states.

The Wisconsin Alumni Association has trademarked the Grandparents University name, and the event has served as a model for similar programs at universities around the nation.