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.

All 2020 majors will be confirmed in February, check back for updates on confirmed and new majors!

Please select majors based on your grandchild’s age, their 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.

ART – Confirmed for 2019

Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: Session I 7 to 10, Session II 9 to 14, Session III 11 to 14

Dean: Candie Waterloo

Bring your imaginations and learn to see in three dimensions as we explore the wonderful world of sculpture! Using inspiration from objects in the Chazen Museum of Art’s Permanent Collection, we’ll experiment with papier-mâché, foil, plaster, and more to create one-of-a-kind sculptural works of art! No experience is necessary, but a willingness to play is required!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Construct an armature to support a free-standing sculpture
  • Tour select galleries in the Chazen Museum of Art on an “inspiration” hunt
  • Learn sculptural techniques to include modeling, carving, or casting

Physical Activity Level: Medium. Be prepared to get messy and if possible, bring a smock or apron. Class will require minimal walking as we explore the galleries. Walking up flights of stairs expected.

ASTRONOMY – Confirmed for 2019


Sessions: I, II
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 other interesting objects in the night sky and learn how to find them.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Make an amazing scale model of the planets out of modeling clay
  • Learn why we see different phases of the moon and make a model that shows them
  • 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.

BIOTECHNOLOGY – Confirmed for 2019

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.

COMPUTER SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2019

Computer Science

Sessions: I
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


Digital Storytelling

Sessions: I, II
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Sara McKinnon

Participants will learn the essentials of good storytelling, and using their family histories and stories, gain practice in using technology to record and edit a podcast that spotlights a story that they developed together.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn what makes for a good story
  • Practice interviewing techniques to capture stories
  • Record and edit a podcast that can be shared with friends and the community.

Physical Activity Level: Low

ENGINEERING – Confirmed for 2019


Sessions: I, III
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Lennon Rodgers, Director of the Design Innovation Lab

Grandparents and grandchildren will use the engineering design process to design and build a battery-powered car. In this major, you’ll work with a tam 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 car body using the laser cutter
  • Assemble and optimize the efficiency of a small, battery-operated toy car
  • Test car by racing against others

Physical Activity Level: Low.

ENTOMOLOGY – Confirmed for 2019


Sessions: I, II
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, field trips, and interactive mini-lectures. Students will participate in an insect-collecting expedition along the Lakeshore Path and create their own curated insect collection. Students will also develop observation skills by keeping a scientific journal during the course.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Take field trips to observe and collect insect specimens.
  • Learn about specimen curation and create an insect collection to take home.
  • View and/or hold live insect specimens (tropical cockroaches, beetles, tarantulas, etc.

Physical Activity Level: High.

1—2 field trips are included in the major (weather permitting). Have proper clothing to hike outdoors to collect insects. Allergy note: Stinging insects could potentially be encountered. Field tip location is a few blocks away from the classroom.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP – Confirmed for 2019

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

Dean: Julie Wood; Education Program Manager and Youth Entrepreneur Camp Director; Wisconsin School of Business—Small Business Development Center

The participants will learn what an entrepreneur is, what they do and the characteristics that make up a successful entrepreneur. The participants will choose a business idea based on their talents and skills, create marketing materials and develop that idea using the business model canvas. The participants will experience running a business by playing the Biz Ops Game.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Play the Biz Ops Game—teams of 4 run paper airplane businesses.
  • Choose a business idea and create marketing materials.
  • Create a Business Model Canvas for their business idea.

Physical Activity Level: Medium


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 both food cultures to each other as well as American food culture
  • Learn French and Italian greetings and basic introductory conversations

Physical Activity Level: Low

GENETICS – Confirmed for 2019

Sessions: III
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Kimberly Anderson; Genetic Counselor

Put on a lab coat and become a geneticist! Learn about how your inherited genes influence who you are and how your body functions. Tour the cytogenetics and newborn screening departments at the State Laboratory of Hygiene and work hands on with the chemists and cytogeneticists to learn how they use genetic information to help sick babies.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Extract DNA and learn how it is unique to everyone.
  • Use microscopes to identify chromosomes in cells and then test your knowledge with a chromosome identification and matching activity.
  • Tour the newborn screening laboratory and learn about the testing for treatable genetic conditions performed on all babies at just a few days of life.

Physical Activity Level: Low to medium: mostly seated activities that take place indoors, but there will be some movement and walking required between classrooms, including some stairs (elevator available).

Notes to participants: Please wear closed toed shoes and pants.


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

Dean: Dave Black; Administrative Pgm Mgr III; WSUM Radio (School of Journalism)

Participants will learn and practice the basics of interviewing. Grandchildren will have the opportunity to interview their grandparents for a keepsake that they will take home. Also, the principles of journalism and a session on news writing.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Learn the basics of interviewing, including types of questions and types of interviews
  • Interview grandparents for family keepsake that will be provided at the end of the session (a recorded interview between grandchildren and grandparents)
  • • Understanding the purpose of a free press in our society (with a focus on writing one broadcast news story for learning purposes)

Physical Activity Level: Low

Notes to participants: Bring an open mind, a love of learning, a sense of humor, and a willingness to be interviewed live on the radio (anonymously if requested).

KINESIOLOGY – Confirmed for 2019


Sessions: I, II
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Steven Wright, assistant professor, department of Kinesiology, School of Medicine and Public Health

In this major, participants will learn about the movement of the body. This could mean learning about how we move, what happens inside our body as we move, or how we can help people who have trouble moving! Participants will tour many different laboratories and get to participate in fun activities!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Get to explore human body parts
  • Tour different scientific laboratories
  • Learn how physical activities bring people together

Physical Activity Level: Medium to High

Notes to participants: Participants will need to wear athletic shoes.

LIMNOLOGY – Confirmed for 2019


Sessions: I, II
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Anne Moser, Senior Special Librarian, Wisconsin Water Library

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 and how to identify Great Lakes fish
  • Learn about remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and assemble your own for testing in the flume tank

Physical Activity Level: High: Significant movement and physical activity, including walking or hiking outdoors. Please note: participants will be getting in and out of a small research vessel.

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.



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

Dean: Emily Schindler; Project Assistant at Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection/Ruth Davis Design Gallery

In this major participants will learn how to make textiles and how making textiles teaches skills that are applicable in other areas. We will sew circuits using conductive thread and LEDs, learn to use math for knitting (and knitting for math), write creative responses to objects from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, and more!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Design and sew an object that lights up
  • Learn to knit
  • Respond to physical art objects using creative writing

Physical Activity Level: Low


Meat Science

Session: I
Ages: 9 to 14
Dean: Jeff Sindelar; Associate Professor/Extension Meat Specialist department of Animal Sciences and Andy Milkowski; Adjunct Faculty department of Animal Sciences

Have you ever wondered where chicken nuggets come from or why sausages are so tasty? In this major, you will have a chance to be a meat scientist and a meat processor for a few hours. During the sessions, we will cut up chickens and make (and eat) different products such as chicken nuggets and sausages while learning about the science of meat processing every step of the way!

Anticipated Activities:

  • Cut up a chicken into different parts to learn how the different parts are utilized
  • Make chicken nuggets and sausages
  • Learn about the science of meat processing

Physical Activity Level: Medium/HIGH
Notes: Participants should bring a coat/sweater as we will be in a 50 degree Fahrenheit room. Participants should wear long pants and wear close-toed shoes.

METEOROLOGY – Confirmed for 2019


Session: III
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
  • Warch a weather ballon launch

Physical Activity Level: Low

Neurobiology – Confirmed for 2019

Sessions: III
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Cathy Auger; Student Svcs Coordinator; Integrative Biology

Learn how the brain controls behavior. Explore some of the basic neurobiological phenomena.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Brain Inspection.
  • Sensation and perceptual phenomena.
  • Neuronal signaling.

Physical Activity Level: Medium

NURSING – Confirmed for 2019


Session: I
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Britta Lothary, 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 (mostly indoor). Please wear comfortable shoes.

NUTRITIONAL SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2019

Nutritional Science

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

Dean: Victoria Flores and Jevin Lortie; Graduate Research Assistants in the department of Nutrition Science

Science and Chemistry concepts are explored through making predictions, experimenting, observing how food changes, and learning how and where food grows. Kids will learn how to make healthy food choices and be able to identify how nutrients help us grow. We will also focus on art and creativity with hands on and interactive activities as we explore our digestive system and see how food gets from the ground to our plate and then finally to different parts of the body.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Food Safari-Scavenger Hunt: Participants go on a scavenger hunt to find different foods. They will receive points on each item and the healthier the food the more points they earn. Foods will be diverse to learn about the different cultures, and will be placed under the correct food group. Learning about their nutrient content as well when they find the hidden food, with notecards placed on each item.
  • Breakdown at the Insulin Factory: Participants need to put their heads together and solve what went wrong at the insulin factory. Each pair or group will have to fix the broken building by using the information they learn about Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes to have the insulin running smoothly again.
  • Peek Inside Your Body: Where does food go when we eat it? Students will learn the path of food in the body from digestion to utilization to excretion in a larger than life model.

Physical Activity Level: Low

PLANTS AND PEOPLE – Confirmed for 2019

Plants and People

Formerly Urban Gardening
Sessions: I, II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

Dean: Elin Filbey; Outreach Specialist in the Department of Horticulture

Learn how the Allen centennial Garden’s gardening practices are helping to mitigate the effects of urban life and climate change by connecting people to plants. In this major, participants will get their hands dirty and leave with a new found appreciation for plants.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Create “seed bombs” that will bring beauty to an otherwise bare space
  • Check out Allen Centennial Garden’s bee hives, learn how bees communicate with each other, and taste honey
  • Learn about Slow Flower movement and assemble your own bouquet or flower crown

Physical Activity Level: Significant movement and physical activity, including walking or hiking outdoors.

Allen Centennial Garden has NO indoor facilities on site. We will be outside for the entire session so please dress for the weather and the possibility of getting dirty. Restrooms and water fountains are located a 5-10 minute walk from where we will be working. Participants may come into contact with bees or other allergens found in nature. There is alternative classroom space for inclement weather.

PLANT SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2019

Sessions: I, II
Ages: 7 to 14

Dean: Donna Fernandez, professor, department of Botany

Participants will learn that plants are more active than most people think, explore plant diversity in the Botany greenhouse and gardens, and set up their own experiments to watch movement in plants.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Conduct plant tropism and water transport experiments
  • Search for useful plants in the greenhouse
  • Isolate DNA from strawberries

Physical Activity Level: Low


Renewable Energy

Session: I, III
Ages: 11 to 14

Dean: Allison Bender; Outreach and Events Coordinator at the Wisconsin Energy Institute

Become an energy expert and learn how researchers are working together to advance the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. How can we make the best windmill? Can prairie plants replace petroleum in our cars and trucks? Everybody is needed—from engineers to artists to politicians. Join us to learn why renewable energy is so exciting and put your new knowledge to work with hands-on activities.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Design a windmill and test it to see how much power you can generate
  • Conduct an experiment to see how much ethanol you can make with Baker’s Yeast
  • Learn about native “energy plants” that are being used to make fuels and other products

Physical Activity Level: Medium.

Please wear closed toed shoes for being in the lab, bring a water bottle, and dress for the weather.

RESTORATION ECOLOGY – Confirmed for 2019

Resoration Ecology

Sessions: II, III
Ages: 7 to 10

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

Participants will investigate the Arboretum’s Native Plant Garden, Curtis Prairie, and Teal Pond Wetland to learn about plant and animal habitats. Through these investigations and close observations of Wisconsin native plants and insects, participants learn about pollination, invasive species, the importance of restoring lands to native habitats, and research being done at the Arboretum.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Investigate how plants make seeds, and make seed balls
  • Remove invasive honey suckle bushes by playing tug-a-suckle
  • Hike to the pond to catch and observe water critters

Physical Activity Level: High

Be prepared for the weather and mosquitoes. Wear long pants and close-toed shoes, bring a hat and long-sleeve shirt, and bring a rain coat if rain is in the forecast.


Russian Studies

Sessions: II, III
Ages: 7 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 2019

Social Robotics

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

Dean: Bilge Mutlu; Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science is the Dean for Social Robotics.

Come 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 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:

SOUTH POLE SCIENCE – Confirmed for 2019

South Pole Science

Session: II
Ages: 9 to 14

Dean: Lindsey Steffes; Outreach and Events Coordinator at WIPAC

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 detector in the Antarctic glacier. It takes about 40 hours to melt one hole at the South Pole!
  • “How do you see particles?” Rotate in small groups to show different examples of detectors-cloud chamber, DOM, ARA antennas and cosmic watch detector.
  • Learn how to “catch” neutrinos-invisible particles that some call ghost particles-with a sand box!

Physical Activity Level: Medium

VETERINARY MEDICINE – Confirmed for 2019

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.

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 2019

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 scavenger hunt around campus in search of wildlife and the clues they’ve left behind.

Anticipated Activities:

  • Make plaster animal tracks
  • 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. Dress appropriately for the weather. If you have binoculars, please bring them along.