5 ways to make college tours more fun

Some people view college tours as a chore — an obligatory part of sending a child into adulthood — but they don’t have to be.

Here are five things to do to make them more fun — during the heat of summer or any time of year.

This is an update to a blog post I wrote last year, after visiting five California universities with my niece. This post focuses on my observations from five recent university tours (in Colorado, Idaho and Washington) with my nephew.

1. Local food: Some universities, especially land grant schools with large agricultural programs, may offer products made on campus and/or made with ingredients grown by students. A visit to Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., is not complete without a stop at Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe on campus. Ice cream flavors, including Caramel Cashew, Huckleberry Twist and Cougar Tracks, are made with campus products.

This single-serving bowl of two flavors — Huckleberry Twist and Caramel Cashew — cost $2.20 at Ferdinand’s. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Ferdinand’s also sells WSU’s cheese in a can, with the most popular being Cougar Gold. That stemmed from WSU research in the 1940s to find a way to store cheese in tins. At least 10 years later, the creamery began making milk and ice cream products for students. Today, Ferdinand’s is open to the public.

Off college campuses, try regional products at restaurants, such as a lentil burger (Paradise Creek Brewery) in Pullman, Wash., or dried garbanzo beans (Nectar and Lodgepole) in Moscow, Idaho (home of the University of Idaho). Lentils and garbanzos are grown in the surrounding beautiful Palouse area.

2. Local activities: Find out what a town or area is known for and do it. Look for activities that interest you. Is there a bicycle trail, such as the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between the University of Idaho in Moscow and Washington State University in Pullman, a climbing wall or community theater? Research can be done beforehand or on the fly via an Internet search, a stop at the local visitor center or asking a local.

Cyclists ride by golden fields of wheat on the 8-mile (one way) Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

3. Bookstores: College towns still have quirky brick-and-mortar bookstores. Boulder, Colo., has at least a half dozen. Not only are they cool places to hang out, but they usually have a local or regional section to learn about the area and culture or find local authors.

Don’t forget to check out campus bookstores, too. Some schools include a coupon in their information packet (it was 20% off at the University of Idaho and Washington State University). It might be a good opportunity to load up on gear from your favorite school or sports team. They also have a good selection of new books, including books by their professors.

4. Museums: Still on my list from last year is to find campus museums, a trend in recent decades helped by alumni funding. When I recently visited Washington State University’s small and manageable Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, it offered engaging works by Louise Bourgeois, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Rauschenberg. In Golden, Colo., the Colorado School of Mines’ Geology Museum is a find for gem and rock lovers; it has two moon rocks. The University of Colorado Boulder has the Museum of Natural History and the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., has the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

These are just some of the minerals, gems and fossils displayed at the Geology Museum at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

5. Explore the town or city. Some college campuses dominate their small host towns, others are located in or near big cities, such as Boston or Seattle. Take the time to walk, bicycle or drive around the town or city closest to campus to see what it has to offer. Eat, shop or watch a movie. Stay overnight if you can to get a true cultural immersion.

Here’s a related tweet from Wednesday, Aug. 7, about five college trends I’ve noticed while on 10 university tours in four states in the last year:

The featured photo at top by me is art by Louise Bourgeois at Washington State University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Trip to Waco, Texas, reveals old-timey wintry drink: hot Dr Pepper (really)

What better way to warm frozen fingers with frigid temperatures across much of the country than a hot drink.

Try hot Dr. Pepper. Yup, I said hot soda.

It sounds weird, but it’s tasty — and I don’t even like cold Dr Pepper. It was offered when I visited the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, so I had to try it. When heated, the distinctive flavor of Dr Pepper becomes a delicious herbal tea.

Today, you can still get hot Dr Pepper Frosty’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, even though it’s not on the menu. You’ll have to hurry because the seasonal drink is served only from November to February, according to Lauren Schlee, the museum’s visitor services coordinator. It costs 99 cents a cup (plus tax), she said.

Frosty's Soda Shop menu
Note the Dr Pepper Sundae on Frosty’s Soda Shop’ menu at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.

If you want to try hot Dr Pepper at home, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop pot, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon in a mug. Look for Dr Pepper in glass bottles that’s made with real sugar.

It turns out the drink has been around longer than I have. A former president of Dr Pepper Co. invented HOT Dr Pepper in 1958 to offer a drink that would warm up people during the winter. It was a popular holiday drink through the 1970s and the company continued to promote HOT Dr Pepper sporadically after the 1980s.

HOT Dr Pepper harkens back to the roots of the nation’s oldest major soda as a curative.

“It’s important to note that when we think of a health drink today, it is much different than what would have been considered healthy more than 100 years ago,” said Rachael Nadeau Johnson, collections manager at the museum. “Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, sodas of all kinds were used for their supposed health benefits.”

Back then, the Dr Pepper company used slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality.” It also created the “Old Doc” logo — a country doctor with a monocle and top hat, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is credited with inventing the recipe for Dr Pepper in 1885, according to the museum. The formula, according to Johnson, is a secret.

The Dr Pepper Museum is about 90 minutes from Dallas by car. (GoogleMaps)[/caption]Dr Pepper’s recipe reportedly contains 23 natural and artificial fruit flavors that provide its unique flavor, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website. The company and the museum are not connected.

The museum, which opened in 1991, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of soft drink memorabilia, including less-known names like Kickapoo Joy Juice and Vernors. The museum entrance fee is $10 for adults; less for students and seniors. It’s free for children age four and younger.

You can visit Frosty’s without entering the museum, but both are worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Map of Dr Pepper Museum, Waco
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Dallas to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. (GoogleMaps)