Future Badgers exploring a lab on campus.

UW–Madison to Admit Elementary and Middle School Students

In a shocking decision, university officials have announced grade-school students from the Grandparents University® (GPU) program will be admitted to the UW as full-time students beginning in 2020. GPU is an award-winning program that started on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus during the summer of 2001. At GPU, grandparents and their grandchildren take part in the Badger experience, complete with staying in a residence hall, touring the campus, going to class, participating in engaging and hands-on activities in a major — and earning a GPU “degree.”

Founded by the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s® (WAA) executive director Sarah Schutt, GPU has been replicated by universities and colleges across the country, but none has dared to open their degree programs to the brightest grade-school kids in the country. Now, UW–Madison is poised to do just that. “Grandparents University is a one-of-a-kind experience for grandparents to not only brag about the genius of their grandchildren, but also to inspire an interest in higher education,” says WAA’s senior director of engagement programs, Kate Prehn ’09. This year’s GPU application process reached a fever pitch with more than 1,500 children and grandparents registered within hours. The 2019 session generated so much web traffic to the GPU registration page that the uwalumni.com website crashed. “The demand is there,” Prehn says, “and the university is responding. Elementary school just isn’t challenging enough anymore.”

The 2019 GPU class will have the opportunity to start working on their bachelor’s degrees immediately in the fall of 2020. There are also GPU alumni returning to campus to pursue their master’s degrees, and there will be a handful of doctoral candidates as well. After majoring in GPU subjects like veterinary medicine, social robotics, biotechnology, limnology, astronomy, nursing, and wildlife ecology, these canny scholars will be raising the bar for what it means to be a Badger. Already, 9-year-old thought leader Lily Espinoza has begun working side-by-side with her 19-year-old classmates on longitudinal studies of social-psychological gerontology. “I mean, it’s just like going to Vilas Zoo with my grandma and stuff, and then like talking about it, so yeah, that’s pretty cool,” explains Espinoza.

This magnificent opportunity would not be possible without the guidance of our GPU instructors. Special thanks to Kim Plummer and Chuck Hendrickson over at veterinary medicine, social robotics professor Bilge Mutlu, and Tom Zinnen in the biotechnology department for helping us push the boundaries for what is possible on the UW campus. Grandparents often tell stories about how amazing their grandkids are, and sometimes they are telling the truth. These post-millennial kids are putting their millennial counterparts on notice. They are hungry (no avocado toast, please!) and ready to earn their degrees, so they can enter the workforce, buy their own homes, and take care of the grandparents who showed them the path to success.  

If you think your grandkid is a future rocket scientist, make sure you sign them up for GPU ASAP! The waitlist is growing exponentially and will be approaching Packer season ticket–waitlist length by the end of the month. I guess that is only fitting at Wisconsin’s flagship public university.

So next time you’re at Camp Randall Stadium, and you see a young Badger fan, challenge them to a “Varsity” sing-off. Start singing the classic tribute to our alma mater, and if it is one of our GPU students, they will sing along with perfect harmony. 

We asked one GPU student, Timmy Laughmore, what he is most excited about for this summer’s session and he said, “If I get another 4.0, do you think I can get a selfie with J. J. Watt during commencement for my Snap?” Yep, these GPU kids get it.

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