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School’s Back for Summer

Get a behind-the-scenes look at Grandparents University 2023

Each summer, Grandparents University (GPU) brings more than a thousand children and their adult relatives to UW–Madison’s campus to take part in an enriching couple of days spent exploring what it means to be a lifelong learner.

Participants get the full college experience: busy days of classes in their major, eating in the dining halls, attending a Block Party, and even sleeping in the dorms.

Camp Randall

After checking into GPU, participants chose from 14 activities to start their first morning. Options include tours of new campus buildings such as the Hamel Music Center and Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center, visits to campus museums, and excursions to the Dairy Cattle Center and UW Makerspace.

One of the most popular activities was a tour of Camp Randall. There, visitors learned the history of the beloved home of Badger football and saw player-only facilities, including the dining hall, McClain Center Indoor Practice Facility, and a 17,000 square-foot gym, a space large enough for the entire 120-person football team to workout at once! The tour also took attendees up to the hospitality suites to look over the stadium and its 75,822 seats. Down on the field, kids practiced their hundred-yard dash and ran down the clock on Camp Randall’s massive scoreboard. (It’s as big as the entire floor of the Kohl Center!)

View of Camp Randall and the scoreboard from a suite.
The McClain Center Indoor Practice Facility is a 76,000 square-foot facility with the same turf as Camp Randall to replicate game conditions.

On the way out, GPU students made sure to stop by the Bud Selig Hall of Champions, which houses UW–Madison sports memorabilia including various Badger national championship trophies and the Heisman Trophy that Ron Dayne ’99 won.

Ron Dayne’99’s Heisman Trophy in the Bud Selig Hall of Champions.


In its first year at GPU, the Pharmacy major was off to a busy start. After receiving a quick introduction to the field — and an explanation of what exactly a pharmacist does — kids were equipped with their very own white coats, just like the actual ones UW Pharmacy students receive in their first year. Once suited up, the kids headed up to a lab with professors and current pharmacy students to get to work.

Grandparents perform a mini white-coat ceremony for their grandchildren at the start of their major.

In the lab, participants tried their hand at compounding medications into gummies. Using a formula that included gelatin, glycerin, and Smarties (to simulate medication and to sweeten the mixture), students and grandparents worked together to triturate (grind with a mortar and pestle), measure, and pour their “medications” into a Motion W mold. The formula called for 15 Smarties to each gummy, but many participants opted to double the amount and add cherry syrup flavoring. After a quick set of calculations to determine their yield (expected amount versus actual amount), the molds were labeled and sent off to cool overnight.

Upon receiving their gummies the next day, participants gave mixed reactions. Despite the gummies’ abundance of Smarties and cherry flavoring, many still lamented that their concoctions weren’t sweet enough and tasted, well, medicinal. This proved to be part of the lesson: the pharmacists explained that while gummy medicines should be palatable, they shouldn’t taste so good that they encourage kids to overconsume their medications.

Triturating Smarties in the lab.
Specially ordered Motion W molds were provided for participants to create their custom “medications.”

The pharmacy majors also took part in a drug discovery lab to explore how new medications are found, a medication selection activity to practice preparing and distributing medicines safely, and a patient counseling session to learn how to effectively communicate with a broad range of patients.

Students learned how vaccines are created and made fake blood to experiment with.

SciArt Garden Adventures

In the SciArt Garden Adventures major, students headed off to Allen Centennial Garden to dig in (literally and figuratively) into all things plants and gardening.

Grandparents and their grandchildren explored and journaled their observations about the hundreds of verities of trees, plants, flowers, and other things living in the garden. They also gathered seeds to look at under a microscope and took home seed samples to start their own gardens.

Map of the Allen Centennial Garden. Photo courtesy of the Allen Centennial Garden.

On the second day, participants got to work creating works of art using plant-based dyes. After gathering a variety of colorful flowers, everyone was given a linen bandana.

With baking soda, citric acid, pretty flowers, and a hammer, you too can try your hand at SciArt. The kids and adults took turns with the hammers, banging the linen-covered flowers against foam board (or even tree stumps for those unable to bend over) to release the natural color from the plants into the linen.

A grandmother takes a turn with the mallet to dye her bandana.

The Allen Centennial Garden is open to the public dusk through dawn.

Wildlife Ecology

Lovers of animals big and small (and even microscopic) got to hone their knowledge in the Wildlife Ecology major.

While in the classroom, students toured a specimen lab with hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. After exploring, each chose a favorite specimen to create a replica animal track from plaster.

The budding ecologists then took their newfound skills to the great outdoors as they went on a scavenger hunt around campus in search of wildlife. Using the skills they learned, the group worked to find mammal-tracking clues and identify birds from their calls. While exploring the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, they even got to go down the dock at the Porter Boathouse to look for amphibians in the lake.  

While exploring, participants headed down the dock to see what they can find in the water near the Porter Boathouse (and catch some UW rowers in action!)
Birdwatching along the Lakeshore Path.
Wildlife Ecology students use the Merlin app to identify bird sounds around campus.


Grandparents University came to an end with a graduation ceremony. Each child was called to the stage with their class and received a pin to symbolize their time at GPU.

The graduating class of session III of GPU 2023
Pharmacy majors wore their white coats to the graduation ceremony.

Grandparents University started in 2001 with only four majors and 160 participants, and it has grown every year since. As it’s one of WFAA’s most popular events, we keep adding new majors and field trips to the course catalog. Which major would you sign up for if you participated?

We can’t wait for next year! Until then, check out the other events WFAA puts on throughout the year.

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Join us for Recent-Grad Weekend on campus June 7–8 for two days packed with all-inclusive summertime fun. Register now before it sells out!