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University of Wisconsin-Madison

A Pharmacy Major for Minors

Professor Dave Mott speaks in front of the 2023 Grandparents University group.
Professor Dave Mott holds a session during the School's "pharmacy" major for Grandparents University. | Photo by Todd Brown

At Grandparents University, the School of Pharmacy hosts two days of hands-on learning about the profession 

By Logan Underwood

In July 2023, a select group of scholars in white lab coats flooded the halls of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, headed to the lab to practice formulation and compounding. But these weren’t PharmD students. Instead, they were kids, 11 to 14 years old, participating in the pharmacy major of the UW’s Grandparents University. Accompanied by their grandparents, the kids were formulating their own gummy medications — a chewable, gelatin-based delivery system.

The 2023 event marked the School of Pharmacy’s first time participating in Grandparents University, an annual program coordinated by the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association that offers an experience for children between the ages of 7 and 14 to accompany an older non-parent family member for a two-day program focused on learning a specific “major.”

When Associate Dean for Advancement Dave Mott (BS ’88, MS ’92, PhD ’95) and the School’s Advancement Team first learned about Grandparents University last fall, by recommendation of Board of Visitors member Debra Fluno (BS ’87), they immediately realized how well a pharmacy major would fit into the program.

“We want to see more School of Pharmacy alumni sign up and bring their grandkids to the program. I want our alumni to see what we’re doing to expose the younger generation to their career.”
—Dave Mott

“A lot of people are interested in pharmacy, and it’s great to get kids exposed to it,” says Mott. “This is a way for us to communicate what pharmacy is all about to young people and their families.”

Quickly, Mott formed a team of School of Pharmacy faculty and instructors — including Zeeh Pharmaceutical Experiment Station Director Ed Elder, Associate Professor Ed Portillo (PharmD ’14), and teaching faculty Jessica Bergsbaken — to help design the curriculum for the program. With a group of motivated PharmD students, the team spent the spring brainstorming activities to teach the participants about key aspects of pharmacy — hands-on activities that would engage kids and grandparents alike.

“Our team was great and the planning process was really crazy but really creative,” says Mott. “It was so rewarding. We got a lot of great feedback, with some grandparents saying it was the best major they’ve taken.”

Hands-on experiences

The event’s two days were split by topic, with one focusing on pharmaceutical science and the other on patient care. The first day had several hands-on activities, including a station where the kids were able to make their own gummy formulations. In the station led by Elder, the participants made a chewable dosage form in the shape of the Wisconsin motion “W” that they could take home and eat.

“The kids were having a great time,” says Elder, “and the grandparents enjoyed helping the children too, making sure they followed the directions on the batch record that they had for making the gummies.”

Other stations during the day involved trivia on how coumadin was discovered, the history of antibiotic discovery, and learning how mRNA vaccines work.

“In the wake of COVID, we wanted to use the opportunity to share how these vaccines work mechanistically. The foundational science is important,” says Mott.

Participants even got to create a blood sample with cornstarch and red food coloring. The second day of the program was full of activities focused on providing patient care.

A child holding a plastic bag with red gummy motion Ws inside.
Participants in the 2023 Grandparents University pharmacy major compounded their own gummy “medications.” | Photo by Todd Brown

“We used the second day to cover two really important roles for pharmacists,” says Mott. “One was medication selection and all of the information that pharmacists have to gather and then process, integrate, and then communicate with patients to choose optimal therapy for them.”

Matt Nguyen, third-year PharmD student who was one of the key student volunteers of the project, helped the medication selection station. The group used a mix of trivia and a detective-style game to draw in the participants and share information about three common pain relief medications and three allergy medications.

“We gave them a patient case with a very simple layout of the medical conditions — what their allergies and other medications are — and they had to strategize to pick one, based on all the clues we gave them,” says Nguyen.

The other core area covered on day two was patient consultations, in which professors and PharmD student volunteers explained the most effective ways to communicate with pharmacists and how to measure accurate dosages at home. Afterward, the students were able to practice consultations with their grandparents in the School’s communication lab, using their compounded gummy as the drug.

“We knew the young kids would love it, with the hands-on activities, but I think the grandparents might have gotten even more out of it than their grandkids because there is so much about medication that they’re curious about,” says Mott. “I remember walking into one of the classrooms and all the older adults were sitting together, and Jess Bergsbaken and one of the students, they were all talking about medication therapy, how to utilize a pharmacist, what to talk about to a physician, strategies to remember to take meds. It was really cool.”

Back in session

Plans for the 2024 sessions are already underway, which will look largely the same, with a few tweaks to make the memories a bit sweeter.

“One of our takeaways was that we need to do a little bit more upfront planning on the flavoring of gummies,” Elder chuckles. “When you make a medication, you don’t want it to taste too good, because then the children don’t think of it as a medication, so that’s a principle that we wanted to get across, in the gummies. But we also wanted to make them a little more palatable than they ended up being.”

Mott has another goal in mind for the 2024 event: to see more Pharmacy alumni faces.

“This is a way for us to communicate what pharmacy is all about to young people and their families.”
—Dave Mott

“We want to see more School of Pharmacy alumni sign up and bring their grandkids to the program,” says Mott. “I want our alumni to see what we’re doing to expose the younger generation to their career.”

Registration emails for the 2024 event are set for February 20, and although the sign-up deadline is seven days later, the event usually fills up within hours.

“I’ve already got the dates blocked off on my calendar for next summer,” jokes Elder. “I’m making sure that I’m available.”