Grandparents University offers a wide range of “majors” taught by UW faculty, staff, and graduate students from disciplines across campus. You and your grandchild will stay together in the same major for the entire two-day program. An adult must accompany each child at all times during the activities related to the major.

Please select majors based on your grandchild’s age, his/her physical activity level, and your physical activity level. Each major’s age range has been carefully determined based on the focus and scope of the activities.

Guide to Physical Activity Levels

Levels of physical activity vary among majors and field trips, so please read the descriptions carefully and choose what best suits your physical abilities:

  • Low: Most activities and tours take place indoors, with some walking required. Majors will have mostly seated activities.
  • Medium: Some movement and walking required between classrooms and venues, which may include stairs.
  • High: Significant movement and physical activity, including walking or hiking outdoors.

Every attempt will be made to honor accessibility requests made in advance.

Confirmed Majors for 2017

ASTRONOMY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Kay Kriewald, outreach specialist, Department of Astronomy, College of Letters & Science

Become a stargazer and explore the night sky! Participants will become acquainted with the constellations and learn how to find them. Grandchildren will also build their own telescope to take home.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Make an amazing scale model of the planets out of modeling clay
  • Assemble your own telescope and learn how it works
  • Construct a star finder to identify constellations
  • Tour historic Washburn Observatory

Physical Activity Level: Low

Participants will visit the Washburn Observatory, which is accessible only by stairs.

BIOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Kelley Harris Johnson, biology major program manager, department of Bacteriology

Participants will learn how to extract nucleic acids using household and commercial products. Participants will explore their own microbial floral. Participants will learn the science behind common biotechnology tools.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Cheek swabs and examine cheek cells and microbes that reside among them.
  • DNA extractions using fruit and common household items.
  • Analyze and explore common biotechnology assays.

Physical Activity Level: Low

Closed-toed shoes are required.

BIOTECHNOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Tom Zinnen, outreach program manager, UW Biotechnology Center

Explore the unknown and become a scientist by running your own experiments and other hands-on investigations in a real laboratory! You’ll extract DNA from wheat germ, tour the DNA and protein facilities at the UW Biotechnology Center, experiment with the enzymes used in cheese-making, and run an electrophoresis experiment to analyze samples of “alien blood.”

Anticipated Activities:

  • Test and probe a sample of DNA from salmon
  • Build a human DNA model to take home
  • Design an experiment to test whether skim or whole milk makes better bubbles
  • Learn to use a $200 micropipette to measure and move tiny amounts of liquids in a lab
  • Play “DNA detective” to solve a biotechnology mystery

Physical Activity Level: Low to medium. Participants will be walking around the building.

Make sure to note any allergies on your registration form.


Session: I
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Jeremiah Marsicek, postdoctoral research associate, department of Geoscience

Participants will learn about why the planet goes through glacial and interglacial cycles, how geologic archives tell us this information, and why past information about changes in climate are relevant to current climate changes. Participants will also explore actual geologic archives (e.g., lake sediment cores) and what the information (e.g., pollen grains, charcoal) contained in them means.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn, through interactive activities, how the earth goes through glacial/interglacial cycles.
  • Collect a sediment core from a shallow lake, open it, and explore its contents.
  • Observe pollen grains and other macroscopic pieces of information from the sediment cores under a microscope.

Physical Activity Level: High
Be prepared for all weather conditions, wear clothes/shoes that you don’t mind getting some mud on or a little wet.

COMPUTER SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2017

Computer Science

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 14

Dean: Andrea Arpaci-Dusseau, Department of Computer Sciences

Computer scientists do more than just use computers; computer scientists solve problems with directions so precise that even a computer can follow the steps. In this major, you will learn some of the creative aspects of computer science, such as how to create your own interactive art, animated stories, and games in the Scratch programming environment.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn how to program in Scratch, a friendly programming environment designed for beginners
  • Use Scratch to tell a joke, animate your favorite pictures, and answer quiz questions
  • Learn how computers work, from binary numbers up to algorithms!

Physical Activity Level: Low

ENGINEERING – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Phil O’Leary, chair, Engineering Professional Development Department

Grandparents and grandchildren will use the engineering design process to design and build a toothpick bridge and a battery-powered car. In this major, you’ll work with a team to figure out how to solve problems with the guidance of faculty and college students. You do not need to be a technical wiz to participate — just bring your creativity and willingness to test new ideas!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Design a bridge using a simulation system on the computer
  • Build a bridge and be able to test the strength of it
  • Assemble and optimize the efficiency of a battery-operated car

Physical Activity Level: Low.

ENTOMOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: PJ Liesch, insect diagnostician, Department of Entomology, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences

We’ll learn about the biology, ecology, diversity, and importance of the insects around us through a number of hands-on activities and field trips. Students will participate in an insect-collecting expedition along the Lakeshore Path and produce their own insect collection. Students will also develop observation skills by keeping a scientific journal.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Create an insect collection to take home
  • Participate in an expedition to collect insects on campus
  • Visit the leaf-cutter ant colony on campus
  • Participate in an insect identification challenge
  • Play Buggo (bug bingo) to earn insect-themed prizes

Physical Activity Level: High.

Be prepared (comfortable shows, sunscreen, etc.) to go on field trips along the campus Lakeshore Path (~5-10 minute walk to destination). Main project in course will involve collecting insects to produce a labeled insect collection. Please notify us of any allergies to insects (bee/wasp stings, etc.)

FOOD SCIENCE – New for 2017

Session: II
Ages: All Ages

Dean: Monica Theis, senior lecturer, Department of Food Science

Participants will learn the fundamentals of the science of fermentations as it applies to food and beverages. They will discover how live organisms contribute to the sensory and functionality of foods. They will explore how various ingredients influence the sensory qualities of foods and beverages. They will understand how ancient practices of food preservation are valuable today.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Formulate a fermented food (examples: bread, root beer, pickles, yogurt, etc).
  • Produce a fermented food or beverage.
  • Conduct sensory analysis of a fermented food (i.e. eat and/or sip).

Physical Activity Level: Low.


Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Jeffrey Thomas, PhD candidate, Department of French and Italian Studies, College of Letters & Sciences

Participants will learn basic French and Italian phrases and introductory conversation. Grandparents and grandchildren will also compose their own French and Italian meals, and will learn French and Italian food traditions.

Anticipated Activities:

  • A hands-on cooking lesson to create both a French and Italian meal.
  • Learn about French and Italian food culture and compare a traditional Italian trattoria to a French bistro.
  • Learn French and Italian greetings and how to express likes and dislikes in French and Italian.

Physical Activity Level: Low

KINESIOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: II, III
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Lisa Cadmus Bertram, assistant professor, department of Kinesiology, School of Medicine and Public Health

We will explore many fascinating aspects of human movement and the science behind how physical activity affects our bodies. We will conduct a variety of experiments, try our hands at sports medicine, and have fun with games and team-building activities.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Motor behavior experiments, human anatomy examples.
  • Learn how to tape ankles.
  • Play fun games and participate in team-building exercises.

Physical Activity Level: Medium

Participants will need to wear athletic shoes.

LIMNOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Sessions: I, II
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: John Magnuson, Professor Emeritus, Limnology

Lake Mendota is the perfect place to spend a summer day and explore a freshwater ecosystem. As a limnologist, you will test the water for oxygen and temperature and take samples of the lake’s murky bottom aboard Limnos, a 28-foot research boat. You will join our Sea Grant experts to explore the ecology of our Great Lakes. You will also learn about Wisconsin’s groundwater and work with water chemists in our laboratory.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Field trip on the R/V Limnos, a 28-foot research boat, to collect water samples from Lake Mendota.
  • Learn all about what makes the Great Lakes great.
  • Learn to identify native and invasive fish species found around the Great Lakes basin.

Physical Activity Level: High

You’ll take water samples and board a boat from a wooden-plank pier. Please wear appropriate footwear. There is no formal seating on the boat. You’ll be standing or sitting on the gunnels for approximately 90 minutes. There is some outside walking and climbing of stairs required. Be prepared for weather – boat will go out in all-weather except for lightening, including heat and rain. Be sure to cover for sun or rain and bring a hat if you would like to.

METEOROLOGY – Confirmed for 2017


Session: I
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Margaret Mooney, Director of Education and Public Outreach, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS)

Learn about forces that create our local weather patterns and UW contributions to the field of satellite meteorology. In this major, you’ll view real-time imagery of Earth and its atmosphere on a 3-D globe and investigate weather phenomena like tornadoes and hurricanes via interactive computer activities. You’ll also test your orientation skills by identifying campus landmarks on satellite images while comparing them to your birds-eye view from the roof of our 16-story building.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Build an anemometer and a model weather satellite
  • Assemble a solar bead bracelet to learn about the electromagnetic spectrum
  • Take a virtual field trip to Antarctica
  • Learn how scientists first studied snow crystals before designing your own
  • Enjoy a breathtaking view of the capital city from the second-tallest building on campus

Physical Activity Level: Low

NURSING – Confirmed for 2017


Session: III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Katie Pavek, clinical instructor, School of Nursing

Participants will explore some places where nurses work and learn more about what nurses do. You’ll practice basic nursing skills using human-patient simulators in our skills lab at the School of Nursing. You’ll also try computer games designed to teach medical terms and learn about how nurses keep patients safe.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn about different places that nurse’s work and visit med flight (as long as the helicopter isn’t in the air!)
  • Meet Sim-Man, a human patient simulator used in the nursing program
  • Learn about ways to prevent infections and how to check each other’s blood pressure and other vital signs

Physical Activity Level: Medium

Some walking involved, so please wear comfortable shoes.

PHYSICS – Confirmed for 2017

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Max Turner, outreach coordinator, the Wonders of Physics, Department of Physics

Physics is the study of motion, so whether you know it or not, you’re already an expert! In this major, you will learn about motion, heat, sound, light, electricity, and magnetism with hands-on learning activities and projects to build. Participants will gain a better understanding of the world around them, and have fun while doing it!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Barbie bungee jumping: learn about energy, motion and using models to predict a result.
  • Heat: make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
  • Roller Coasters: build and test model roller coasters to learn about energy.
  • Circuits: build simple circuits to learn about electricity and magnetism.

Physical Activity Level: Low

PLANT SCIENCE – New for 2017

Sessions: I, II
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Donna Fernandez, professor, department of Botany

Participants will learn that plants are more active than most people think, explore plant diversity, and learn how plant scientists set up experiments.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Propagate a plant to take home.
  • Conduct a water transport experiment.
  • Participate in a greenhouse treasure hunt.

Physical Activity Level: Low


Researching Cancer Cures

Session: I
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Nathan Sherer, assistant professor, department of Oncology

UW-Madison’s Carbone Cancer Center is world-renowned for cutting edge research into the molecular and cellular basis of cancer and cancer-related disease. This basic research is essential to devising the next generation of new and better therapeutic strategies. In this major, you will learn how a cancer research project is born, how the key questions are identified and tackled, and what a biomedical research lab looks like, and some of the exciting techniques involved.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Search for cancer mutations in genes using advanced molecular techniques.
  • Study how cells and tissues change during cancer progression.
  • Study cancer viruses using genetic analysis, protein modeling, and live cell imaging.

Physical Activity Level: Medium. Participants may have to climb one set of stairs.

Lab coats and eye protection will be provided.

RESTORATION ECOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017

Resoration Ecology

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Jennifer Mitchell, coordinator, children’s and families’ programs, UW-Madison Arboretum

Participants will learn about restoring natural areas as they walk through the oldest restored prairie in the world. We will collect seeds, identify native plants, go on hikes, collect insects, visit the pond, and play tug-a-suckle.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Hike in the gardens and restored landscapes of the arboretum.
  • Collect insects and other invertebrates in the pond and prairie.
  • Learn about and remove invasive species.

Physical Activity Level: High

Be prepared for the weather and mosquitoes. Long pants and closed toed shoes are needed, especially on Friday.


Russian Studies

Sessions: I, II
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Nancy Heingartner, Assistant Director for Outreach, Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS)

Students in this course will study the Russian alphabet and will learn to use several common phrases. They will sing a Russian song, play a traditional Russian game, and will learn about some of the highlights of Russian history, geography, and culture. They will also sample some delicious Russian foods. Learning will happen through discussions, games, small-group interactions, and a variety of hands-on activities.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Write your name and introduce yourself in Russian.
  • Sing a song in Russian.
  • Understand a little about Russia’s fascinating history, culture, and food.

Physical Activity Level: Medium. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing (We’ll be doing some moving around.).

If any student has a significant food allergy, it would be helpful to know about this well in advance of the first day of class.

SOCIAL ROBOTICS – Confirmed for 2017

Social Robotics

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Bilge Multu, assistant professor, Department of Computer Sciences

Meet a robot! In this major, you’ll learn how researchers are developing social robots for our everyday lives. Participants will study the social cues that these robots use to interact more easily with humans. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn how to program a robot to emulate some of these social characteristics.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn how social robotics are involved in our lives
  • Observe human behavior and translate behaviors into programs
  • Program robots to emulate social characteristics

Physical Activity Level: Low

SOUTH POLE SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2017

South Pole Science

Session: III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Jim Madsen, associate director, Ice Cube; director of physics, UW-River Falls

Join us for a hands-on exploration of IceCube, the biggest and strangest telescope in the world. Learn about the lives of the men and women who are working in the extreme South Pole environment to develop new ways to explore the universe. You’ll learn about neutrinos — the mysterious cosmic messengers detected by IceCube — and what they tell us about the composition of matter, cosmic explosions, and more.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Become an ice driller! Ice drilling was the method used to build the IceCube neutrino detector in the Antarctic glacier. (It takes about 40 hours to melt one hole at the South Pole!)
  • Find out what it’s like to work outside at the South Pole
  • Learn how to “catch” neutrinos — invisible particles that some call “ghost particles” — by building your own detector

Physical Activity Level: Medium


Stem Cells

Sessions: II
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Val Blair, education and outreach manager, Morgridge Institute for Research

Explore the potential stem cells hold for modern medicine! Interact with scientists to learn how these cells can change into other cell types. Participants will have the opportunity to work with stem cells in a biosafety cabinet while learning how to maintain stem cell cultures.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Observe stem cells under a microscope
  • Use common tools and techniques used to care for stem cells
  • Simulate how scientists encourage stem cells to turn into other cell types

Physical Activity Level: Low

Participants must wear long pants and closed-toe shoes to participate in lab work.

THEATRE AND DRAMA – Confirmed for 2017

Theatre And Drama

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Jim Stauffer, director of undergraduate studies in theatre, Department of Theatre and Drama, School of Education

Get a taste of life in the theatre! We’ll tour the UW’s production facilities, where you’ll see what it takes to stage a production and make the magic come alive. You’ll learn that theatre is a collaborative art that requires many people with various talents working together to create a production. You’ll also learn how to use your imagination to tell stories and bring characters to life. Plus, we’ll have a blood-curdling good time when we get out the special-effects makeup!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Tour the UW theatre and production shops.
  • Experiment with special-effects makeup. Get a taste of set, lighting, and costume design.
  • Play theatre games and participate in improvisation activities.

Physical Activity Level: High. All classes will be indoors. There will be lots of walking and movement, but low exertion. There will be stairs to navigate in the theatre and on the way to the classrooms.


Turf Grass And Soil Science

Session: III
Ages: All ages

Dean: Doug Soldat, associate professor, Department of Soil Science, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences

In this major, we will learn about the science of the suburban landscape by studying the bugs, dirt, and grass we interact with on a daily basis. We will of course learn that soil is more than just dirt, and discuss the important work that soil microbes and pollinating insects do while we taste some of their honey. You will also have the chance to play tennis on a real grass court with a legend (Coach John Powless) and see how it feels to play soccer on a World Cup style soccer pitch.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn all about soil and build a model of a soil profile
  • Touch and feel different types of grass and play soccer and tennis on professional quality fields
  • Use microscopes to explore the hidden world of fungi and insects that inhabit the soil

Physical Activity Level: Medium

One day will be inside and one day will be outside, so be prepared for weather (sun, heat, and rain protection)

VETERINARY MEDICINE – Confirmed for 2017

Veterinary Medicine

Session: I
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Kim Lord Plummer, senior lecturer, Department of Comparative Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine

Participants will work with live animals (dogs, cows and horses) to learn the basics of physical examination and handling. We explore comparative anatomical features drawing on knowledge of the human form, and the basics of health and well-care in our veterinary patients. We explore the depth and breadth of the veterinary profession through many fun, hands-on activities.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Perform a physical exam on a dog and a horse
  • Explore the ruminant stomach of a cow
  • Analyze radiographs (x-rays) from real patients seen in the VMTH
  • Explore the hearts and brains of various veterinary species with hands-on activities

Physical Activity Level: Medium. Walking between labs is required. No food or beverages are allowed in the labs.

Travel outside the country or contact with farm animals 14 days prior to the start of the program is prohibited. We are in contact with live (healthy) animals which may be an allergy concern for some.

WILDLIFE ECOLOGY – Confirmed for 2017

Wildlife Ecology

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Jamie Nack, senior wildlife outreach specialist, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences

Take a walk on the wild side! In this major, you’ll learn about dozens of Wisconsin’s fascinating wild animals, from ruby-throated hummingbirds to black bears. Then, pick up the basic techniques of bird identification and bird-watching. Finally, test your new skills by going on a nature walk around campus in search of wildlife and the clues they’ve left behind.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Take a fun quiz to test your wildlife identification skills
  • Tour the wildlife “museum” and see hundreds of specimens
  • Explore Lakeshore Path in search of wildlife

Physical Activity Level: High

This program will occur rain or shine and will include a nature walk that will last for an hour and a half on the second day. Dress appropriately for the weather, and if you have binoculars, please bring them.