Most Latter-day Saint institutes of religion take place near college or university campuses. But classes in the Utah Valley institute program are different because they take place in stake centers and seminary buildings throughout Utah Valley.
The program was established in 1995 to meet the needs of students at Brigham Young University or then-Utah Valley Community College or anyone age 18 to 31 who wanted to take an institute class, said Jack Nielsen, one of the three directors of the program.
Classes take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings in seminary buildings and the 100 or so stake centers from as far north as the Lehi area to as far south as Nephi.
Nielsen said the program targets those who can't fit a daytime institute class into their schedule.
"The program offers the opportunity to learn the gospel in a convenient location," Nielsen said.
He mostly sees BYU students enrolling, who, he said, participate in this program because it offers more of a social aspect than their religion classes at school. Students can graduate from this program, but class credits can also count toward graduation from other institute programs.
Classes go all year in such places as Lone Peak and Timpanogos high school seminary buildings and the Thomas L. Martin and Joseph Smith buildings on the BYU campus.
The classes are "the same basic classes" taught at other institutes, Nielsen said, including teachings of the living prophets, scriptural classes and married student classes. The program does not do family home evenings or many other activities.
"We leave (those activities) to the stake young single adult committees," Nielsen said.
The program, which offers about 100 classes, employs 100 teachers and enrolls about 6,000 students each year, does offer social opportunities, Nielsen said. After classes end, there is usually a "munch and mingle," where students can meet and socialize.
Nielsen said he has received positive feedback about the program as he has visited the classes around the valley. One stake president Nielsen talked to said he saw the value of the program.
"This new stake president said, 'Sometimes, when students have struggles in their lives, (the program) is a place they can come to receive instruction in the middle of the week."'
Aaron Ford has been participating in the program since April and said he joined because he wanted to take an institute class while he is taking a summer break from classes at BYU.
"I'm out of school for the summer and I figured I could go learn and meet new people," he said.
"There are a lot of people that go. It has a good feel."
Lorelie Sander of the BYU 14th Stake has been involved with the program in her current stake for two years.
"The program offers a place where people can come and feel welcome and have friends," she said.
Sander, a BYU graduate, moved to Utah from St. Louis for school. She said that others like her are often far from their families, and the program is a place where they can feel welcome.So far, the program's boundaries have covered the entire valley, but this month, it will be divided into two areas, Nielsen said. The area north of Orem will be called the Utah Valley North, and everything south of that will be called Utah Valley South. Nielsen said he will report for the south area.
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How to get involved
Students can enroll for classes online at ldsces.org/utahvalley/ and click on the Stake Institute Classes link. Students can also enroll by attending a class and getting their name on the roll. Stakes and wards in the area often have information about class schedules, locations and teachers. For more information, call 801-764-3090.