As an 18-year-old freshman at Utah State University, Bradon Capener registered for classes at the Logan Institute of Religion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he admits he didn’t see the value and rarely attended.
It wasn’t until Capener returned from serving a Mormon mission a few years later and “decided to get involved” that he realized what he had been missing. Not only did the returned missionary come to appreciate the gospel more deeply through the instructors and spiritual classes, but he also found it fulfilling to help plan activities and interact with other students. In time he became the president of the institute's official campus club, the Latter-day Saint Student Association. The institute building became like a second home.
“I was lost until I found I could be involved there. I made a lot of friends, and it was a productive use of my time. It helped me transition from returned missionary to productive living,” Capener said. “There is nothing better than institute to help you make friends, learn, grow and be buoyed up.”
Capener is one of countless college-aged Latter-day Saints who have had positive experiences at institute, fulfilling the prophetic promise of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who in 2009 asked college students to “make participation in institute a priority.”
“Think of it. Friends will be made, the Spirit will be felt and faith will be strengthened,” the prophet said. “I promise you, that as you participate in institute and study the scriptures diligently, your power to avoid temptation and to receive direction of the Holy Ghost in all you do will be increased. Divine favor will attend those who humbly seek it. That is a promise which I leave with you.”
Seminary graduates preparing to attend college this fall would be wise to follow President Monson’s counsel and participate in institute, said Grant Anderson, an assistant administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Anderson, along with Capener and fellow institute stalwarts Amanda Mae Monson and Lyssa Wanner, can attest to blessings that come with attending institute.
“We have kind of held (students') hand through seminary and high school,” Anderson said. “Now they are at a crossroads of making decisions about missions, careers and marriage. We’re hoping here is a place that can help keep you grounded as you are making those critical decisions.”
Who is invited?
According to Institute.lds.org, more than 350,000 students are enrolled in institute at over 2,500 locations worldwide. These programs are primarily located near college campuses. For those who don't live near a university, stake-based programs have been established. Find an institute by going to institute.lds.org and click on "Find an Institute."
Originally, Anderson said institute was designed for college students. That changed three years ago when it was decided that institute would be available for all young adults ages 18-30, primarily focused on those who are single, Anderson said. There is no cost to attend institute.
There is a misconception among incoming freshmen that institute is really just seminary for college kids, something they feel they have already experienced. That isn't the case, Anderson said.
"It's a mindset we hope to change," Anderson said. "We would hope they see it as an eight-year program, not just a four-year seminary program. We hope they would would see that continuation."
How does institute differ from seminary?
For starters, institute strives to accommodate a wide range of young adults with different school and work circumstances by offering a variety of classes on different gospel topics on various days and at all times of the day and evening.
"You have more freedom and flexibility to pick when and what you are going to study as opposed to everyone being on the same assigned topic," Anderson said. "Someone coming out of seminary has lots of options. There is no reason why someone couldn't fit institute into their schedule."
Institute students typically like to sign up for Book of Mormon classes, Anderson said. Another popular class is called "Gospel and the Productive Life." It was developed in places like South America to teach a range of skills, including good health, financial responsibility, scripture study, personal revelation, dating and relationships, Anderson said.
"It was a catchall for living a productive life and it was so successful," said Anderson, who spent several years as an instructor and administrator at the Salt Lake City University Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah, as well as in California and Colorado. "It was also one of our more popular classes up at the U."
Mission preparation was a traditional favorite among incoming freshman until the mission age change, Anderson said. Since the change, many stakes have picked up teaching the mission prep classes to young men during their senior year of high school. But more young women are taking the class, he said.
"With young men leaving right out of high school, we are seeing more sisters in mission prep, probably a 75 to 25 percent split," Anderson said. "Overall, institute is becoming more of a post-mission experience. Young men and women will now be on more equal footing in regards to the timing of their education, and it will create some new dynamics at the institute. It's going to be exciting to see how things unfold."
If you sign up for a class you don't like, don't be afraid to try a different one, Anderson said.
"You are not locked in. One of the blessings of institute is if you sign up for a class and it's not what you thought, if the style of the teacher doesn't fit or you have a friend in another class, you won't hurt our feelings if you want to change," Anderson said. "You have a chance to shop around and find something that meets your needs."
Seminary purposely has fewer activities because students are busy enough with jobs, ward or branch and school activities.
Institute is designed to provide a greater social atmosphere where students can mingle with others who have the same standards, plan activities and be an influence on campus. It's even a great place to go during finals week when the library is full, Anderson said.
"In addition to studying the gospel, students can meet afterwards, have some food, which is always a draw, play some volleyball or hoops, sing in a choir or go to a football game together," Anderson said.
Wanner has attended institute at Weber State and is now president of the Brigham City Campus Institute Council. For her, the transition was smooth and there is nothing to fear.
"I have gained wonderful friendships and have grown closer to my Heavenly Father through attending institute," Wanner said. "Institute can have a huge effect on your life if you make an effort. ... It's where you should be."
Amanda Mae Monson has attended institute in Georgia, Illinois and Utah. She says she would not be where or who she is without her institute experiences. She said the institute became the focal point of her social life, as well as a safe, quiet haven from the chaos of college life. She found that when she took time to contemplate eternal principles, everything else fell into place.
"With all the changes you will experience as you start college, you will need the benefits of institute to keep you strong and steady. You will need those faithful friends to build you up. You will need the love and knowledge of those amazing institute teachers. You will need the gospel understanding you will gain," Monson said. "Regardless of what you do in life and where you go, institute can help strengthen you for the road ahead, equipping you with intelligence and friends to assist you."
Some seminary graduates may avoid institute because they don't know what it is and don't want to go alone, Anderson said.
"Invite a friend and say, 'Let's go see this together,'" Anderson said. "You don't even have to register ahead of time, just walk into the building and get a feel for it, make yourself known and see what's available."
Anderson also suggests priests and Laurels consider planning a "visiting your local institute" as a combined activity.
"Contact the institute and come see what it's all about. We welcome you. We will set up a class, let you meet students and teachers, give you some food and show you around," Anderson said. "There is no excuse not to give it a shot. Come hang out, learn and do what a prophet has asked."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: tbtoone
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company