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Photo courtesy BYU-Pathway Worldwide
From left: Gene Hayes, director of BYU-Pathway Worldwide internationally; Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, General Authority Seventy and President of the Brazil Area of the Church, BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Clark G. Gilbert; and Elder Marcos A. Aidukatis, General Authority Seventy and member of the Brazil Area Presidency. President Gilbert visited Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a Connections Conference with Pathway students on June 8.

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL

With nearly 500 Pathway sites in 50 countries around the world, BYU-Pathway Worldwide is responding to the growing need of Church members to further their education within the context of their local needs.

With a worldwide campus and current headquarters in Rexburg, Idaho (soon to move to Salt Lake City), BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Clark G. Gilbert and other Pathway leaders wanted to find ways to gather with students enrolled in the program. That’s when the idea of “Connections Conferences” came to be.

“Connections conferences were created to provide additional opportunities for BYU-Pathway students to periodically gather in centers of strength across the Church,” President Gilbert told the Church News.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Pathway program is the element of gathering. The creation of a “Connection Conference” does just that — brings Pathway leaders and students together to learn and collaborate with each other in meaningful ways.

“All over the Church, we gather once a week in the Institutes,” President Gilbert said. “We find the power of gathering in person creates lasting and real connections, and students are able to remember the physical gathering in more meaningful ways.”

Following the same pattern established within the program’s curriculum, the face-to-face meetings will continue to be held in “centers of strength,” or areas of the world where a large number of Pathway students are located.

“We will have a handful of places where we will go visit,” said Gene Hayes, who oversees the international field operations for BYU-Pathway Worldwide. “We have a lot of students in Pathway, and I believe when [we] connect with the people and see people face-to-face, we are able to learn what their needs are and what they need from a faraway institution.”

The most recent Connections Conference — the third of its kind — brought local Church leaders, Pathway students, visiting Pathway leaders and representatives from local self-reliance services together in São Paulo, Brazil, on June 8. Other conferences have been held in Phoenix, Arizona and Mexico City, Mexico.

“We chose São Paulo as the site for this Connections Conference because so many BYU-Pathway students live in the greater São Paulo area,” said President Gilbert.

More than 2,000 Pathway students live in Brazil, and the event was also streamed via Facebook Live to students who are part of the 40 other Pathway sites across Brazil.

“Most of [the students] had a dream to be part of BYU, and now they feel like they are part of this, right now,” said Silvio Guimarães, Pathway area manager in Brazil. “It gives a sense of belonging, and they feel they are a pioneer with BYU-Pathway.”

Working hand-in-hand with the Area Presidency and local Church leaders, the Connections Conference integrates the secular and spiritual, and encourages Church members to be self-reliant.

“We partner with the local area presidency and self-reliance services and work in close collaboration with the needs of the area,” said President Gilbert. “The conference [allows] students to gather and network, creating both professional and spiritual connections.”

The conferences include workshops with self-reliance services managers, and discussions on topics such as networking, interview skills and résumé building.

“These conferences help us look very closely with area presidencies who understand what is going on in their areas,” said Brother Guimarães. “We adjust wisely, so we do not leave anyone behind.”

A look at the courses offered in the area helps administrators make decisions about the needs of local students.

“We are beneficiaries of the ‘Spirit of Ricks [College],’ that spirit of frugality,” said Brother Hayes. “It has been very beneficial for us to know where we came from and to know how the Lord has been preparing other organizations. … We have learned to use resources wisely. It’s amazing, instead of replicating or competing, we are able to [work with] some of the great things we already do.”

For President Gilbert, meeting with students is always a highlight.

“There was such a spirit of camaraderie, love and excitement for education at the event,” he posted on Instagram.

He told the Church News “the students who come through Pathway feel so thankful. There is a ‘spirit of gratitude’ and … a ‘spirit of replenishment.’ … [Students] are willing to do anything to help other people have that experience.”

One observation is that many students who have gone through the Pathway program themselves often volunteer to help others after they are done.

“Brazil has seen tremendous Pathway enrollment growth in the last several years,” President Gilbert said. “We now have over 2,000 BYU-Pathway students enrolled in Pathway and the online degree programs in Brazil. The members of the Church in Brazil see the need for education and value the opportunity to gather in centers of strength across the country.”

During the conference President Gilbert shared a message about how the pursuit of an education is deeply tied to faith, drawing from the words of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency, who said, “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea — it’s a commandment.”

“Certainly part of this is tied to our responsibility to be temporally self-reliant,” President Gilbert said. “But there is also something deeper that is tied to realizing our potential and meeting the expectations of a loving Heavenly Father. President Eyring has taught that ‘conversion brings a drive to learn.’ In this sense, when we know who we really are, we recognize that the Lord wants us to grow and develop and He will help us realize our potential.”

mholman@desnews.com @marianne_holman

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.