PROVO — A 90-year tradition resurfaces this week when the annual Campus Education Week is conducted on the Brigham Young University campus.
Launched in 1922 as "Leadership Week" with a strict orientation toward training lay leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Campus Education Week has evolved through the years into five days of classes, workshops and experiences in a wide variety of disciplines intended to enhance life-long learning.
"Our objective is to bless the lives of those who are attending," said Bruce Payne, administrator of the annual event. "Every year we ask our attendees for evaluations of the program, and every year we get comments from individuals who indicate that a particular class or experience changed their life.
"I guess that's what we're doing," Payne continued. "We're enhancing — and sometimes changing — people's lives."
The 2012 Campus Education Week program runs Monday through Friday this week, with just under 1,100 classes available to the more than 21,000 conference registrants (which, according to Payne, is 6-7 percent more than the number that pre-registered for classes last year). Classes — including 90 classes aimed specifically at teenagers age 14 and older — will be taught by 230 different presenters, including 50 first-time Education Week presenters.
Among the presenters this year will be all three members of the LDS Church's General Sunday School Presidency —Russell T. Osguthorpe, David M. McConkie and Matthew O. Richardson — who will be teaching a class on "Improving Gospel Learning and Teaching."
In addition to the classes, there will also be a devotional featuring Elder Tad R. Callister of the LDS Church's Presidency of the Seventy Tuesday at 11:10 a.m. in the Marriott Center, which is open to the general public. There will also be evening performances featuring Vocal Point, BYU's a cappella ensemble that was featured recently on NBC's "The Sing Off"; "City of Joseph," a musical based on the LDS Church's establishment of Nauvoo, Ill.; and One Clear Voice, a quartet featuring Tammy Simister Robinson, Johanne Frechette Perry, Tanya Barkdull and LaRene Tinney.
Advance registration for Campus Education Week is not required, although there is a fee for participation. "People can walk in and register any time they want to attend a class," Payne said. "We don't limit enrollment, and you don't register for a specific class. As far as the classes are concerned, seats are available on a first come, first served basis."
Pulling all of this together takes a full year for Payne and his relatively small staff. Finding and clearing new presenters is especially time consuming, he said.
"We have an application process for our presenters that requires some time," he said, indicating that there are typically 150 or so applications that have to go through the review process each year. While most of the Education Week presenters are either BYU faculty, BYU administration or seminary and institute teachers from the LDS Church Educational System, there are also presentations from other professionals who are experts in their respective fields.
"We ask them to provide a video of their presentation, and we look at that video," Payne said. "We look at their experience in teaching the subject, and we examine their outlines and handout materials. We want to make sure they are a good fit with what we're trying to do here."
And what they are trying to do, he said, is to teach, uplift and inspire from within the context of LDS orthodoxy.
"Education Week is not the venue to address controversial subjects," Payne said, adding "there are other venues for that."
"We look at the things the leaders of the church are addressing in general conference," he continued. "Our models are the titles you'd see on a conference talk."
Which is not to say that every class needs to be scripturally or doctrinally-based. Scanning the class schedule for 2012, in addition to the classes on the LDS scriptures and church history, there are also classes on the arts, communication, family and marriage, finance, fitness, government, law, music, parenting, psychology and self-improvement. But in every class, Payne said, "we anticipate our presenters will bring statements from church leaders and the scriptures to bear on the subject, even if it isn't necessarily a doctrinal class."
The success of teachers and presenters is a critical element to the ongoing popularity of Education Week.
"It all begins with our faculty," Payne said. "They are all solid, well-grounded in the gospel and experts in their respective fields. When people come, they find that their needs are being met by good instructors talking about things they need or want to hear. The popularity of Education Week is dependant on getting these great instructors."
It seems to be a good experience for the teachers, as well.
"I'm super excited to be teaching again at Campus Education Week this year," wrote singer/presenter Vanessa Joy in her online blog. "I've met so many wonderful people and made some great friends."
"This is my eighth year teaching at Education Week," wrote Dawn Thurston after teaching about writing personal and family histories at last year's event. "I always come away from the experience touched and inspired by the many wonderful people I've met who are fired up with a sense of mission to write their personal and family stories."
Which is one of the reasons Payne thinks instructors enjoy teaching at Education Week. As Thurston said, those who attend the classes are "fired up."
"We frequently hear from our presenters about how great it is to teach people who are there because they really want to be there," Payne said. "For a lot of teachers, that's an unusual experience, and they really enjoy it."
And then there's the BYU campus itself, which enhances the unique feeling of spiritual commitment that exists at Education Week.
"People come to just soak up the atmosphere," Payne said. "Part of that has to do with the spirit that is always here on this campus, and part of it has to do with a lot of work from a lot of people: the grounds crews, the scheduling coordinators, the dining service, the campus housing office — you name it, there are hundreds and hundreds of BYU employees assisting in this effort.
"Everyone knows it's an important week," he continued, "and everyone jumps in to make it a great experience."
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