Majoring in Meteorology at Grandparents University

July 18, 2013 | Leanne Avila

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a unique opportunity for grandparents and their grandkids to spend time together during the summer and have fun learning on campus. It’s all part of Grandparents University (GPU) , a series of two-day programs in which grandparents and their grandkids participate in hands-on activities in their “major.”

Grandparents University 2007

A Granddaughter shows off the satellite model she constructed with her Grandfather (2007). Photo credit: SSEC

Created by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and now in its 13th year, GPU offers roughly two dozen majors, including one in Meteorology developed by Margaret Mooney, Director of the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Office for the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), an institute within the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC). This year is SSEC’s ninth year for hosting the Meteorology major.

Over the next two days (July 18-19) 28 grandparents and grandkids will visit the Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences building for a peek at the world of satellite meteorology. This year’s agenda is full of activities with very few lectures. After featuring a series of short presentations in the 2005 debut of the meteorology major, Mooney realized how important it is to engage participants and have them play a more active role.

So what exactly can they expect from the Meteorology major? Participants will:

The sky's the limit! 2008 GPU Balloon Launch. Photo credit: SSEC

The sky’s the limit! 2008 GPU Balloon Launch. Photo credit: SSEC

  • Build an anemometer to measure wind speed;
  • Make a solar bracelet to understand the electromagnetic spectrum (which will help explain how weather satellite instruments gather data);
  • Build a model of the Suomi NPP weather satellite – an activity led by Carissa Bunge, a UW-Madison college student;
  • Experience a weather balloon launch with SSEC researcher Erik Olson;
  • View weather satellite imagery on a 3-D globe with SSEC outreach specialist Patrick Rowley;
  • Learn about early studies of snowflake crystals with SSEC Librarian Jean Phillips;
  • Take a virtual field trip to Antarctica with SSEC researcher Lee Welhouse;
  • And more!

Most of the participants in this year’s Meteorology major are from Wisconsin, but Mooney noted that a few are from out of state. In some cases the grandkids or grandparents fly in for the event.

Mooney described GPU as a perfect opportunity for both generations. “Grandparents really appreciate seeing their grandkids. And the grandkids enjoy the whole college experience.” Everyone stays together in the dorms, and participants who return to GPU in later years to work on additional majors can earn a degree; after four years of participation they can earn a Bachelor’s degree and after six years they can earn a Master’s. Some grandkids have even earned PhDs.

“We share what we do with alums who don’t know who [Verner] Suomi is, who don’t know that this is the satellite capitol of the world.” And with the grandkids, they are reaching out to future college students/future scientists.

“GPU is one of the most enjoyable and effective outreach events of the year,” declared Mooney. She noted how gratifying it is to reach two important audiences at once – groups that are “happy to be together.”

2012 GPU group photo. Photo credit: SSEC

2012 GPU group photo. Photo credit: SSEC

by Leanne Avila