By Omar Sofradzija
Kenneth Korotkin’s two grandchildren were busy during their recent visit to Michigan State University. Some things they did were very collegiate; some other things, not so much.
“We went to the farm and learned where milk comes from, and we heard the history of Coca-Cola, and we’re going to finance after this, which is an important class in my mind,” Korotkin, a 1973 graduate of what is now named the Eli Broad College of Business, said during a lunch break. “It’s what they’re going to do the rest of their life; teaching them how to handle money and how important it is to share, invest, spend, and save.”
Helping past Spartans bond with potential future Spartans in a shared campus experience was the ultimate goal of MSU’s Grandparents University, a three-day camp in late June to which alumni brought grandchildren ages 8 to 12 to choose from among roughly 200 classes and sessions being offered. The annual event brings around 1,300 people to campus.
“This is a tremendous bridge between the past and the future,” said Broad College Dean Sanjay Gupta. “For us to be able to bring them into an intimate contact not only with the physical elements of the campus but also our faculty and staff sows the seeds of that inspiration early on as to what college education can be and what it can mean, the impact that it could have and our ability to endear them to our campus.”
The Broad College sponsored a number of this summer’s sessions, including EmpowHER, a condensed one-session version of a two-day camp that goes by the same name. EmpowHER aims to build leadership, confidence, and self-esteem in girls. This year was the first time EmpowHER was part of Grandparents University.
“We tried to come up with very interactive things to do with the kids and their grandparents … it was fun,” said Kristin St. Marie, assistant director of Broad College open enrollment Executive Development Programs. “It still mirrored the purpose of our full retreat, which is building leadership and confidence and community, but we also got great exposure for that program.”
“It was really neat to see the kids interact with their grandparents and maybe hear a story from their grandparent about something personal,” said St. Marie. “When we designed the curriculum for this, we really tried to think about how are we engaging the young girls, but also how could we create opportunities for them to engage with their grandparents that brought them here.”
St. Marie called Grandparents University “just a fantastic program. I’ve never been part of it and I’m really happy that we were invited to do something. Hopefully, we’ll continue in having EmpowHER” as a part of it.
Another Broad College event was the Business Model Canvas session, run by Ken Szymusiak, managing director for the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“We are walking grandparents and their grandkids through an exercise we utilize for our students here on campus, which is a great way to sketch out early business ideas, so the students are bringing their own fun, crazy thing to the table, and we’re showing them all the different components that are going into creating a business from scratch,” Szymusiak said.
“Everyone’s interested in business in some shape or form,” Szymusiak said. ”The biggest opportunity we have here is to get them super-enthused about it, and thinking early not just about ideas but about, ‘what would I do if I had an idea? How would I run with it? What are the steps I would take?’ I’m really excited about it.”
“I hope they can walk away from this with some new ideas and some ways they can actually keep pursuing something new,” said Szymusiak, adding that “what I really noticed how quick they were to dive into all the different components. Everyone has these great ideas, and when you start asking them questions about the underpinnings or the things that would make something come to life, they really catch on quickly. And by asking a series of questions they realize that businesses are a little more complicated than they seem on the surface.”
Not only was the event an opportunity for kids to learn about college life, but grandparents had the chance to catch up on a place that helped them launch themselves into the real world. Many found new sights around their old home.
“It’s really very interesting,” said Jon Rowland, a 1965 MBA graduate who attended with his wife and two grandsons. “The campus is probably twice the size now than when we were here. I have to have a map now to know where I’m going. I never used to need a map.”
“But it’s also been great for the kids, too,” Rowland said. “They’re really enjoying it and just picking up all the experience of living away from home and all the interaction with all of the other kids. And they’re also enjoying the cafeteria.”
Will those kids be Spartans someday? Perhaps, said Rowland’s grandkids. Korotkin’s grandchildren were split about whether MSU was right for them, and Korotkin is okay with that.
“My intent is to teach them about what college is about, and make them excited to encourage them to do well. They have a history of other schools in their family, but their grandfather went to Michigan State and is a pure-bred Spartan,” Korotkin said. “I’m not saying they have to go to State, but I want them to know the importance of education.”
And a bit of financial knowledge, too.