For many school children, the 2009-10 school year ends this week, signaling the start of summer and traditional fun-in-the-sun activities – playing all day, swimming, summer camp and extra time spent with grandma or grandpa.

Grandparents University participants learn forensics techniques.

UNT's Grandparents University capitalizes on one of these traditions, allowing grandparents and their grandchildren to spend two days on campus learning about topics of their choice in a college setting.

Now in its second year, the program is currently registering students for the 2010 session and is seeing several grandparent-grandchild pairs who attended last year signing up to come again.

Returning Grandparents U alumni

Shirley White,
and her 10-year-old grandson, Jacob Bridges, studied astronomy and criminal investigation during the program's inaugural session last year. The pair plans to return this year for a refresher course in astronomy and to study a new major – robotics.

Bridges says he especially liked UNT's Sky Theater and is looking forward to studying about stars again.

"But this time I picked technology to see if they have robots," the Evers Park Elementary School student says.

This year's program, which is June 24-25, includes 11 majors (topics the grandparent/grandchild pairs or threesomes can choose to study together) ranging from art to animal behavior. 

Designed to give grandparents a chance to actively participate in their grandchild's learning process – while learning new things themselves –  the program gives grandchildren ages 7-12 a taste of what it's like to be a UNT student.

A win/win situation

Michael McPherson
, associate professor of economics and the program's founding dean, learned about the Grandparents University concept from a Michigan State colleague and right away believed the program would be a perfect fit for UNT.

"I thought, wow, this might be a great thing to do on our campus. It seemed to be the sort of thing that would work well here," McPherson says. "It lets us reach out to alums, because many of our grandparents attended UNT. At the same time, we can reach out to kids who will be looking around for a university in not too many years and hopefully their experience here will put UNT on the top of their list.

"It also gives us a chance to get people who live in Denton or nearby but may have never been on campus to come and see what we're like and what we're about," McPherson says. "It's our chance to show them that we are a part of their community. And finally, as a public university, we are supposed to be educating everybody, to be contributing members of the community by showing and demonstrating and teaching.

"It's not very often that we get the chance to do all of those things with one program," McPherson says. "So there are a lot of things about this that are great for UNT and great for our community."

Grandparent and grandchild bonding

White and Bridges say they enjoyed the program last year and are looking forward to this year.

"Jacob and I have always been close, but this was a very special experience that we were able to share," White says. "Watching Jacob learn and being part of the process was a joy."

Jacob agrees. "It was great. I like learning new things because it will make me smart," he says.

White also enjoys the classes herself. She says she believes it is important to continue learning throughout life and she has taken several of UNT's Lifelong Learning classes.

"Learning something new helps keep you young and vital," she says. "I want my grandchildren to think of me as someone who is interested and interesting."

She also had an ulterior motive for bringing Jacob to Grandparents University.

"I wanted to expose Jacob to UNT," says the retired staff member of 34 years who now works part-time in UNT's Department of Marketing and Logistics. "I hoped he would develop an interest in attending college when he's old enough."

Her plan appears to be working.

"I hope it will be my college some day," Bridges says.

What you need to know

The cost to participate in this year's program ranges from $315 for one grandparent and one child who choose not to stay overnight on campus to $450 for two grandparents and one child or one grandparent and two children to stay overnight in Kerr Hall.

You can register online until June 17. As many as 100 people are anticipated to enroll for the June 24-25 program.

Grandparents University is part of UNT's Center for Achievement and Lifelong Learning, which also houses UNT's Emeritus College program.

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Watch video of a grandmother and granddaughter learning how to dust for fingerprints during a Grandparents University criminal justice class.

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