A somewhat different children's and youth university

When the colourful leaves are on the ground and the trees are slowly becoming bare, when it is called "Ilmenau Himmelgrau" (Ilmenau Sky Grey) and the temperatures climb down, then one of the biggest events at TU Ilmenau is just around the corner: the Children's and Youth University. Due to the pandemic, this posed a special challenge in 2021.

Lina Hermeyer
The mascot "Juhu" is a highlight for the children every time.

Every year in November, the average age on campus is brought down for six days - and has been since 2003. For 18 years, children from 3rd to 6th grade have come to Ilmenau to get a taste of everyday university life. Since 2019, the series of events, which is organized by a student project team under the direction of the department of marketing and communication, became more "adult": the Youth University was born.

A slightly different children's and youth university

It's Wednesday morning, the temperatures are mild by Ilmenau's November standards and the sun is cautiously peeking through the clouds. The first week of this year's Children's and Youth University is about to begin. It is still quiet on campus, with a few students walking to their lectures. The helpers, easily recognisable by their bright orange vests, and the organisational team are already in the starting blocks. Normally, the first coaches drive up to the Humboldt Building at 10:00 a.m., fully loaded with excited primary school classes. But the fourth wave is making itself felt. Less than 48 hours before the start of the event, the setback came for the eight-member organizing team led by team leader Jessica Schmid. Due to the critical incidence situation, the event, as it was originally planned, had to be cancelled. For the children's university feeling, one class from the Ilmkreis may still come each day. Jessica sits in the Audimax and shakes her head: "It was shock news. I would have liked to know a bit earlier, we only had 24 hours to contact the classes. But we made the best of the situation. It was all very crunchy, but in the end it worked out."

Children's voices can be heard from outside, class 3a of the Langewiesen state primary school has arrived at the Humboldt Building. "Juhu", a giant owl and mascot of the Children's and Youth University since 2019, stands in front of the doors and greets the students waving. From the helpers, each child receives a personalized Studi ID card. "Student for a day" is written on the laminated cards, which all the children proudly wear around their necks. While the 23 students explore the campus and its stations together with the helpers, Jessica and her fellow students make the final preparations before the lecture that takes place for the children in the afternoon. However, there are only small things left to do, most of it has been well prepared in advance. The student quickly goes through the rows in the auditorium with disinfectant wipes:

We have to disinfect everything, prepare the lecture hall and distribute the gifts to the seats." She pauses for a moment. "Part of the dry routine for us is to do a Corona test beforehand.

Sticks in, be safe - to be able to hold the event, the team plays it safe.

At 1:20 p.m., the 3a crowd into the lecture hall; the first lecture is about to begin. The children are assigned to their seats with green dots - this ensures the necessary safety distance. Today's topic: "What invisible force is in magnets?"Dr. Tom Ströhla explains the phenomenon of electromagnetic forces in a way that is suitable for children and talks about electric cars, e-bikes and robots. The class on site is allowed to carry out experiments and really lend a hand. Among them are elementary school students Fabian, Anton and Sandrino. The 8-year-olds already know exactly what they want to be when they grow up: firefighters, professional footballers and excavator drivers - nothing you could study here. Nevertheless, they were enthusiastic about the lecture, says Anton, beaming, his eyes shining:

I really liked it today, especially with all the experiments. You also learned things that you didn't know at all. I was allowed to take part in an experiment where you had to turn around. There we showed how magnets feel."

But not only in the lecture hall, but also at home in front of the screens, connected online, whole classes follow the lecture eagerly. More than 200 students take part in the live stream, including from Berlin and Hamburg.

This year, because of the pandemic, we said from the outset that we would offer the whole event hybrid," Jessica explains proudly. "This obviously involved a lot of effort, but it was definitely worth it in hindsight.

If you can't come along in person, you can still expect a wide range of activities. In addition to the live stream of the lecture, the children can watch experiment videos on YouTube and do it themselves. The necessary materials will be sent to them in the so-called Campus Box. A collection of small gifts: music and vocabulary books, printed rulers and pencils, stickers, Frisbees and crispy flakes for the little hunger in between. Even a digital campus tour is offered to the little ones and the big ones, which can be accessed on the own YouTube channel at any time. There is also a raffle with great prizes, Jessica reveals:

'If the kids send us a video or photo of their experiment, then they can also win something bigger, a day at the Fairy Grottos or a trip to the Jump House. There are some really cool things in there.

At 2:45 p.m., they say goodbye to the elementary school students from Juhu and the team and walk down Ehrenberg with their gifts, big grins and a bunch of new experiences. The eight students on the organizing team, their helpers and Juhu sit in the seminar room, exhausted but happy. "We're happy with how it went. Sure, it was the first day, not everything went perfectly. But it was a nice start, I'm looking forward to the next days," says Jessica smiling in the round.

Since 2019, there is now also the Youth University. On the last two days of the event, grades 7 to 9 visit TU - with a colorful program designed to attract them to the university and as future students.

On day 5, only one class is allowed to come, the 7a of the comprehensive school in Ilmkreis - the rest will be connected online. The difference to the children's university: there are two lectures per day, prepared in an age-appropriate way, and in between there is the campus tour with stops at the binary clock, library, refectory and the clubs. After a short warm-up and getting-to-know-you round in front of the Humboldt Building, the 16 students finally enter the Audimax at 1:30 pm. The topic of the first lecture of the day is red-hot: "COVID, Lockdown and Conspiracy Theories: Does talk make you (un)healthy?" Expert for crisis communication Dr. Andreas Schwarz plans to shed light on the latest crisis with the young people.

With a social experiment, the "Tok-Tik-Virus Scenario", the lecturer introduces the young listeners to the topic. Insights into health risk communication and the spread of conspiracy theories - the topics strike a chord with the youngsters. Hands are often up for questions and answers, right at the front is René, 13 years old. He follows the lecture attentively, his curls bobbing slightly with each nod of the head. The bright student took a lot away from the lecture:

It was exciting to see that you shouldn't believe every piece of information you hear. That you should protect yourself well and that you should pay attention to who the facts are coming from." Nonchalantly, in a youthful manner, he admits, "I actually found the lecture quite interesting. I was also pleased at the beginning that there were always lots of questions that we could answer - I thought that was really cool.

Escape from everyday school life for a few hours and maybe even think about your future: That's what the Children's and Youth University makes possible for students. And who knows, maybe in a few years you'll see one or two of them walking across campus as students - laughing and strolling on their way to the lecture hall.

Eva Seidl