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BYU President's Report

January 2019

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Giving is Helping                 BYU News & Features

Becoming a Zion-like University

By President Kevin J Worthen

President Kevin J Worthen

As I think about providing context for what lies ahead for Brigham Young University, my mind is drawn to a prophecy of President John Taylor that was later highlighted by President Spencer W. Kimball:

“You will see the day that Zion will be as far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. You mark my words, and write them down, and see if they do not come to pass” (Journal of Discourses 21:100 [April 13, 1879]).

This is, for me, a soul-stirring prophecy. Equally stirring was President Kimball’s brief but deepening elaboration. “Surely,” he said, “we cannot refuse that rendezvous with history because so much of what is desperately needed by mankind is bound up in our being willing to contribute to the fulfillment of that prophecy” (“The Second Century of Brigham Young University,” BYU devotional address, October 10, 1975). I note that President Taylor did not expressly refer to universities in general, or even Brigham Young University in particular, when he made his prophecy. It is Zion that President Taylor said is destined to be a beacon to the world with respect to learning. But it strikes me that it is possible that we will fulfill the destiny outlined in his prophecy only to the extent that we become more Zion-like, both as individuals and as a campus community.

Inspiring Learning in Action

As I think about the emphasis that we are giving to inspiring learning and its unique combination of faith-based teaching and student-centered research, I am reassured that we are on the right track. Our students learn in a manner consistent with gospel principles, which includes learning by study, by faith, and by experience.

Anne Thomas

Anne Thomas, the fifth Gates Scholar from BYU, will be studying historical biogeography at Cambridge. Thomas played cello in the BYU Baroque Ensemble and was president of the Earth Stewardship Club.

The results of inspiring learning have been most heartening. It is one way in which we can be ahead of the world with respect to learning of every kind.

In 2017 we made available $2.7 million—all donated funds—to enhance the education of students. That meant that 4,685 students had some kind of inspiring learning experience because of your generosity.

In the first 10 months of 2018, we’ve dispersed a little more than $4 million. Because the year is not yet over, we do not yet know the number of students who benefited, but it is clear that thanks to you, the effort is growing.

We asked deans across campus to report how the 2017 funds were used to benefit the 4,685 students. Here are some of the examples they gave:

  • More than 150 undergraduate students in the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering worked on research projects with a faculty member in a mentored-learning setting, doing what graduate students do elsewhere.
  • From the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, 59 social work students interned in prisons, hospitals, clinics, and mental health facilities throughout the United States; 24 anthropology students participated in field schools in various places, including in Jordan, Namibia, and Thailand.
  • From the College of Fine Arts and Communications: 75 communications students participated in the Y-Digital Lab. They have actual clients. Our students are in Provo, but those who hire them are not necessarily here. The students conduct social media campaigns in real time with huge data sets and geofencing. It’s all a very real-world experience. Additionally, 11 art students traveled to Italy to experience art. Their way was not paid, but we provided about $1,000 per student. Another 10 art students traveled to Wendover’s Historic Air Base on the border of Utah and Nevada. It was not quite Italy, but each of them produced four paintings in connection with the class. The total cost for all 10 of them was $190 for van rental and insurance. Sometimes it’s very little money that makes the difference.
  • One hundred and twenty-six humanities students participated in study abroad programs thanks to inspiring learning funds.
  • Three undergraduate nursing students participated in a research project studying NICU nurses’ knowledge of immunization practices and policies.
  • Sixteen McKay School of Education students received stipends, allowing them to student teach in schools that serve underserved populations in Houston and Washington, DC.
  • More than 180 Marriott School of Business students received travel support so they could participate in competitions and conferences related to their studies.
  • Fourteen life science students participated in a field study and other activities in Samoa, trying to eliminate and understand rheumatic heart disease, which has an extraordinarily high rate in Samoa.

The deans’ list goes on for pages—all of the many experiences possible thanks to you.

How to Become a Zion-like University

Our love for the Savior and His gospel can transform everything for us. As President Merrill J. Bateman explained, “In our context, a Zion university is a community of righteous scholars and students searching for truth for the purpose of educating the whole person” (“A Zion University,” BYU devotional address, January 9, 1996). And I would add, a community motivated by charity, the pure love of Christ—both His love for us and our love for Him.

Chris Romney

Inspiring Learning funds helped Chris Romney intern with the shading team on Disney Pixar's Coco, which led to a full-time offer from Pixar, where he worked until being hired by Apple in 2018.

I am grateful for the many conversations that have occurred in this past year about how to provide, encourage, and incentivize student-centered research in all disciplines. This is a Zion-like effort.

If we are to not only fit into but help create a more Zion-like university, we will need to view our involvement more with our hearts filled with love. Being a Zion-like university requires not only that we collectively be of one mind and one heart but also that our hearts be pure. “For this is Zion—the pure in heart” (D&C 97:21).

The good news of the gospel is that we can become better, holier people. And as we do so, our efforts will inspire and improve those around us. This is the purpose of our mortal experience. Thus, as we strive to become a Zion university, we will be fulfilling our essential mission to assist individuals, including ourselves, in our quest for perfection and eternal life.

I love this university. Thank you for your love for and support of it.

President Worthen spoke to donors on October 5, 2018. This piece is based on his remarks that day. See his related address, “Fulfilling the Destiny of Zion,” at

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