Building bonds at UNT’s Grandparents University

Building bonds at UNT’s Grandparents University

Building bonds at UNT’s Grandparents University
April 15
09:26 2014

Nicholas Friedman // Staff Writer

Whether it’s to give children a preview of what college has in store or for grandparents to relive fond memories from the past, UNT’s Center for Achieving and Lifelong Learning’s Grandparents University provides the basis for bonding while teaching something to the people participating.

Every year at UNT, children ages seven to 12 and their accompanying grandparents are given an opportunity to live on campus for two days as part of Grandparents University, a program that offers insight into the college experience and gives participants a chance to learn about robotics, computer animation, astronomy and more.

Program planning

Grandparents University is a program that started in the Midwest before being brought to UNT by associate professor of economics Michael McPherson.

“I went to Michigan State, one of the schools where it started, and I bumped into a former mentor at a conference there seven or eight years ago,” McPherson said. “He told me about the program and said I should look into it. I happened to be on the faculty senate here and I met with the President and Provost regularly. I approached the subject with them and they were all for it.”

McPherson said he spent about a year developing the program with director of Lifelong Learning Marilyn Wagner before unveiling the program in 2009. McPherson then went on to act as “dean” for Grandparents University for two years before moving on to other projects.

The program, taking place on June 19 and 20 this year, allows participants to choose one class from each of the two “majors,” stay in the dorms at Honors Hall and take part in events and activities throughout the two-day stay. The cost for tuition according to the official website is $463 for two participants and $595 for three participants. This cost includes events, classes and housing.

“We look at the cost of the rooms, the cost of dorms and food and any activities,” Wagner said. “There’s swimming in the rec center and tours of the environmental center. We take the cost that the university charges for various venues on campus as well as transportation since we have buses that will take people to classes.”

Wagner said that all of the construction on campus this year has posed difficulty in planning transportation but that they are overcoming the issue.

“Campus isn’t as easily walkable,” Wagner said. ”What we try to do is structure the bus route so that they don’t have to walk far. We drop them off as close as possible to their classes.”

Wagner said that to choose which classes to employ for the program, they look carefully at what has been popular in the past and what has been suggested.

“We have a committee of faculty that looks at the proposals each year,” Wagner said. “We determine which courses are the most popular every year or fully subscribed and then we look at new programs that we can feature.”

Wagner said the program is usually successful. Around 20 people are signed up for the program currently, but Wagner said they usually have 100 to 120 participants every year and that signups increase closer to the event.

Quality time 

The age range of seven to 12 can sometimes pose a challenge, McPherson said.

“You have to think about the difference between a 7 year old and a 12 year old,” McPherson said. “You don’t want to lose the attention of a 7 year old, but you also don’t want to bore a 12 year old.”

Wagner said the program not only offers young people a chance to experience a college campus, but it also gives older people a look into what UNT has to offer.

“People get to see campus and the environmental center and play with science toys or build a meteor at the planetarium,” Wagner said. “It exposes kids to how much fun college can be with actual classrooms and actual professors. For the grandparents it’s a chance to see what college is like now.”

Wagner said that they’re hopeful grandparents will go and tell the children’s parents how the experience was so that they consider UNT as a choice for their child’s possible college education.

UNT senior lecturer and professor for the program Marissa Zorola said she believes Grandparents University is a wonderful program because it helps bring different generations together.

“Grandparents and grandkids spend time together working on something fun, learning something new and engaging with one another,” Zorola said. “There are definitely lifelong memories that they are creating.”

Zorola said she teaches the merchandising course for the program, focusing on textiles and showing participants how to tie-dye a t-shirt.

“I wanted to be a part of contributing to someone’s positive experience,” Zorola said. “I have children and I know how important it is that they spend quality one-on-one time with their grandparents.”

UNT principal lecturer of computer science and engineering David Keathly teaches the robotics and computer animation portion of the program. These courses allow participants to create their own racing robot or build an animated cartoon or game.

“In my courses the kids are often teaching their grandparents about technology,” Keathly said. “This program is excellent because it exposes young people to the university at a perfect age to get them to start thinking about the things that they would like to do and what college life will be like.”

Wagner believes that the program is able to successfully bring families closer together while providing them with new learning experiences.

“On the last day we have a graduations ceremonies where the kids have their own little caps and tassels,” Wagner said. “We award them a Grandparent’s diploma and they throw their caps in the air. They must have seen that somewhere.”

Feature photo: Becky Nix and grandson Hunter create a comet from a recipe during 2011 Grandparents University’s astronomy class. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer 

About Author

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the Editor In Chief of the North Texas Daily. In addition, he's had his work published at The Dallas Morning News, GuideLive and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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