By Cynthia J. Drake, M.A. ’08
Reprinted from Centralight Winter 2016
Christina Hayward was 12 the year her grandmother took her to GrandparentsU at Central Michigan University, where a rock-climbing wall awaited them.
"I remember looking at it, and I'd never climbed that high before, and my grandma asked me, 'Do you want to do it?'"
They climbed it together.
That three-day summer camp with her grandma, Sarah Elden, brought them closer, says Hayward, now a freshman at Central.
GrandparentsU celebrates its 10th year in 2017. The camp is packed with courses and events for grandparents and their grandkids, ages 8 to 12. Many grandparents are alumni, but it's not required. Last summer, nearly 300 participated and a waiting list isn't unheard of, says Annie Sanders, associate director of alumni relations.
"The best part for me is watching the grandparents and children interact," says Sanders, who oversees the program. "The event provides a unique opportunity for the one-on-one time for these families that they may not normally get.
"It's fun for grandparents to show their grandchildren where they spent their time while on campus."
Courses designed to stimulate young minds
Participants choose to attend five courses from a menu of nearly 50 topics, including hands-on programs in science, journalism, business and more.
Alumna RuthAnn Albus, '71, calls it "the highlight of my year." She's taken her 11-year-old grandson, Robby Fitzgibbon, for four years. "You have the time of your life with your grandkids. You don't have any distractions," she says.
Albus has enjoyed everything from trying on Medieval costumes and holding Civil War-era weapons to watching exploding laboratory experiments and creating a company with a brand and a tagline for a marketing class.
"We've met the football coach, we've done the Medieval Times, 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' at the library," she says. "One of the most amazing things to me is how much time the professors put into the classes to make them interesting for the kids."
A real campus experience
The kids stay with their grandparents in the residence halls and eat at the residential restaurants, which was fun for 12-year-old Hayward, whose mother and uncle also attended CMU.
"I remember the first night in the dorms. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, it's like a hotel room,'" she says. "Everything's so nice, and the food is great. I was really excited that I was on a college campus. I was like an adult."
Wayne Korson, '67, and his wife, Vicki, have attended for the past five years with their grandsons Jack, 13, and T.J., 11.
"We have wonderful memories over the past few years," says Vicki Korson. "Spending the time with the grandchildren is extraordinary in the classrooms, sleeping and eating in the dorms, and evenings in the Student Activity Center. They still tease me about falling on the bowling lanes – my nickname is 'Slippery Shoes.'"
The next GrandparentsU is June 20-22, 2017
- Registration opens in January
- Go to
the GrandparentsU webpage for information
- Early registration is encouraged because slots fill up quickly