Education for Eternity
Faculty and staff members are encouraged to cultivate spiritual values at BYU.
By Dr. Lora Beth Brown
In his “The Second Century of Brigham Young University” address (1975), President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the importance of education for eternity and the pursuit of educational excellence. He stated that we must “be concerned about the spiritual qualities and abilities of those who teach here.” Likewise, in recent addresses at the 2014 University Conference, President Kevin J Worthen, Academic Vice President Brent W. Webb, Commissioner of the Church Education System Paul V. Johnson all spoke of the need for consecrated contributions. They each urged us as faculty and staff members to move forward in our contributions to the spiritual growth and development of our students.
Dr. Lora Beth Brown teaches her students. Photo by Mark Philbrick
Some of the diverse ways we cultivate spiritual values at BYU would be obvious to an outsider. For example, professors may start class with a prayer, a hymn, or a spiritual thought from a student. Staff members may start their meetings or their shifts by praying together. BYU Devotional speakers often discuss gospel principles through the lens of their own discipline. A student recently said that she especially appreciates professors who comment on devotional addresses, as it reminds her of the importance of these spiritual oases in otherwise busy days.
Professors in many disciplines find ways to weave their testimony of the Savior into their courses. One of my teaching assistants, Kylie Peterson, described how some professors include their testimony in their teachings: "In my anatomy and physiology classes, my professors testified of the Great Creator who created our remarkable bodies and intricate systems. In my biology and science classes, my professors testified of the evidence of God in every life form and system. In my management and business classes, my professors testified of the greatest leader who we should all pattern our management styles after. In my nutrition classes, my professors testified of the power of treating our bodies as temples, allowing ourselves to reach our full potential and increase the glory of God."
Contributions to spirituality which are less obvious—but certainly present—are professors’ personal prayers for help in designing and delivering a lesson, guiding individual students, or moving their research forward. Similarly, staff members may pray to be of service as they fulfill their specific duties. Although we may not consciously notice, the beautiful and orderly campus grounds and buildings also contribute to a spiritual atmosphere.
The Education in Zion exhibition similarly makes a unique and powerful contribution. Although many students see this exhibition when they first come to BYU, its impact may fade with time. I assign students in one of my nutrition courses (yes, a nutrition course!) to spend thirty minutes in the exhibition during the first week of the semester and write a one-page reflective essay on what they learned and how this recent visit to the exhibition will help them in their studies this semester or beyond. It is a privilege to read their essays. They express appreciation for the sacrifices of pioneers to get this school started; they express gratitude for the Church’s extensive commitment to education; some gain a new vision of the close connections between education and spirituality and eternal development. Nearly all of the students commit to be more serious in their academic pursuits.
Each individual associated with BYU has a role to play in cultivating spiritual values. As President Worthen reiterated, “The mission statement makes clear that not just formal instruction, but all programs and all services ‘should make their own contribution.’” Laree LaPierre, another student, said, "[This means] more than just opening class with a prayer, but really [having] a desire to uplift and strengthen . . . students in every way. I think I admire these professors most because I feel like they truly cared and thus wanted to share all truth with their students. It helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the class material and even a deeper interest too. It made me want to try harder." As we incorporate spiritual aspects into every facet of BYU education, students will be able to grow spiritually as well as academically.