STILLWATER — Hundreds of nontraditional students are invading the Oklahoma State University campus this month.
They can be spotted in groups of one or two dozen — wearing matching orange T-shirts — as they walk from the dorms to classrooms, where they are learning about everything from food science to firefighting.
In a veterinary medicine class, Lucy Ballew, of Tulsa, quickly masters the use of forceps to extract a foreign object from a simulated dog’s stomach.
It’s a two-person job, assistant professor Andrew Hanzlicek explains, as he wields the camera scope that lets the students see inside the stomach. Lucy quickly removes the object — a small Twix bar. Hanzlicek praises her skill and tells her she may keep the candy.
Lucy, 7, smiles to reveal a missing front tooth, but she is quick to point out the replacement tooth already is poking through.
It’s just another exciting day at Grandparent University, where OSU alumni and their grandchildren can experience together the joys of learning and campus life.
“It’s so much fun ... just for them to see what is out there and what it’s like to go to school,” said Kathy Dunlap, of Tulsa, Lucy’s grandmother.
And it’s fun for grandparents to share stories of their grandchildren and their college days, Dunlap said.
Grandparent University — a program of the OSU Alumni Association — has grown each year since it began in 2003 with four majors and 80 participants, said Chris Batchelder, association president and CEO.
This summer, 522 adults and children enrolled in 28 majors. Everyone who wanted a spot in the program got in for the first time, thanks to the faculty, staff and volunteer alumni who stepped up to help, Batchelder said.
“They do it because they love doing it,” he said.
Alumni Association members can bring their grandchildren, ages 7 to 13, to campus for the three-day summer camps. The legacies “graduate” with a certificate in their chosen field. They live in the dorms, eat on campus and swim at the Colvin Center.
“We are recruiting kids from the time they are born ... to become Cowboys and Cowgirls. Grandparent University is the that moment when you can finally come to campus,” Batchelder said. “It really gives them a taste of the college life.”
It ranks with homecoming as the top events the association is involved with each year.
Alumni-grandkid teams in an aerospace class are busy learning about propellants and protractors as they build rockets from empty plastic soda bottles.
It’s the best part of the camp so far, said Davis Villanueva, 9, of Oklahoma City, who wants to be a scientist. His grandparent-teammate is Charles Qualls, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who was on the faculty at OSU’s veterinary school for 18 years.
Qualls and other grandparents in the room offer encouragement, advice and helping hands.
Lanny Bainter, of Enid, finds his granddaughter, Chrissa Gungoll, 12, of Oklahoma City, doesn’t need much help.
“I’m on a robotics team. I enjoy building and engineering,” Chrissa said.
Grandparent University is great for “learning things and seeing what it’s like to be a college student,” she said.
“Getting to stay in my own space and not having my mom tell me what to do,” is what Kashyn Kay, 12, of Midwest City, likes best.
Grandmother Brenda Holland, of Midwest City, said it’s great to have one-on-one time with Kashyn without all the other grandkids around.
The group moves outside to launch their completed rockets and measure how far they go.
“After we collect data, we’re going to figure out how high the flagpole at Whitehurst Hall is,” professor Steve Marks said.
Back at veterinary medicine, the students are learning about the care of horses.
One group stops on the large scale and discovers their combined weight is 1,903 pounds.
“I don’t cut anything open. I just have to use my senses when I’m working on horses,” associate professor Lyndi Gilliam tells the class, as Blackie the horse stands by.
“My fingers know what the inside of a horse feels like,” Gilliam said. “My arm has to to go into his bottom all the way up to my shoulder.”
The students each put on a long, plastic glove and reach through a hole deep into a bag to see if their fingers can figure out what’s inside. A pineapple and a bell pepper are easy, but a bag of marshmallows stumps the class.
Then the group surrounds Blackie for a chance to hear the heart beat — and yet another great photo opportunity for the grandparents.
AT A GLANCE
2014 Grandparent University