Veteran presenters describe challenges and rewards of BYU Education Week

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Diane Bills Prince gives a class on spiritual gifts and blessings at BYU Education Week on Tuesday. Prince has been presenting at Education Week for 20 years.

Trent Toone, Deseret News

It’s challenging and stressful to prepare for, but ultimately it’s rewarding and results in tender experiences.

That’s how a handful of longtime presenters summarized their experience of teaching at BYU Campus Education Week.

“When they contact me in January and ask if I want to participate, I feel very gung ho about it. But when it’s upon us, I think, ‘Did I make a mistake in committing to make these presentations?’” said Richard O. Cowan, who has consistently taught classes at the event since the early 1960s. “But you realize people are taking their vacations or making sacrifices to be there. I think there is a special energy that we feel to participate in Education Week, not just from the content, but from the spirit of the occasion and the people you associate with. It’s very fulfilling. I keep coming back because I enjoy it.”

Diane Bills Prince, a presenter of 20 years, agrees.

“Education Week is such a wonderful opportunity for all of us to grow and develop in our personal lives,” she said. “I have grown over the years as I have spent countless hours in preparation and prayer. … It is a week of edification and an overwhelming outpouring of the Spirit.”

This year there are 190 returning faculty members and 40 new presenters teaching more than 1,000 classes to about 19,000 participants at Education Week.

To become a presenter, an individual must undergo a screening process that includes filling out an online application, submitting a video of the person giving a presentation and getting clearance from the individual’s local priesthood leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The person’s professional background, qualifications and communication skills are also evaluated. The applicant must also submit a proposed class title and outline one year in advance, said Bruce Payne, administrator of the annual event.

“Will the topic draw interest?” Payne said. “We need classes that will fill seats because if not, it puts demand on other classes.”

Any given year, Payne said, 120-150 applicants will submit applications and 25-40 new presenters will be selected. Presenters are also evaluated on a year-by-year basis.

“The hardest part of the job,” Payne said, “Is not inviting somebody back that we feel good about. But we need to keep the program fresh and we only have so many spots.”

It’s rare for a presenter to consistently teach for two or three decades, but it has been done, Payne said.

The Deseret News recently interviewed six veteran presenters — three men and three women — regarding their overall experience with Education Week. They include David A. Christensen and Terrance D. Olson, who have each presented for 30 years; Cowan, upwards of 50 years; Bills, 20 years; Merrilee A. Boyak, 16 years; and Carrie Wrigley, 13 years.

What is the biggest challenge you face in preparing for Education Week?

Cowan, a Brigham Young University professor of LDS Church history and doctrine, is blind. As a result, feeling prepared is the biggest challenge.

“I have a unique situation. Point and click doesn’t work for me, so I need to be a little more prepared with logistics,” Cowan said.

The biggest challenge for Christensen is “teaching with the Spirit,” he said.

“In a large crowd, all those who attend have different needs. If ‘I’ teach, I’ll fail. If ‘the Spirit’ is the teacher, I will succeed,” said Christensen, a retired seminary and institute instructor.

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