FALL SUMMIT 2003: The Legacy of the Spori

The Academics of Activities

 Expanding Knowledge Beyond the Classroom

By Stuart Cowie, a senior at BYU-Idaho

An old Chinese proverb says, “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.” Nothing could be more appropriate for an institution whose motto is “Rethinking Education.” Elder Henry B. Eyring, commissioner of education, has said, “This school is to be a place of educational innovation—permanently.” As part of fulfilling this mandate, the university is continually searching for new avenues to enhance the learning process. 

One such way is through the recently developed Activities Program. BYU–Idaho is providing opportunities for students to learn not only in the classroom, but also to apply that knowledge through life-changing experiences in the Activities Program. As intercollegiate athletics was phased out in the transition from Ricks College to BYU–Idaho, a new emphasis was placed on developing a program that would meet the needs of a diversified student body.               

A committee of students, faculty, and administrators met together to organize the Activities Program, a program that responds to student interests and creates a hands-on academic experience. The Activities Program involves four divisions: Arts, Enrichment, Physical, and Social. Within each of these areas is an array of activities in which students are given the chance to be participants rather than spectators.

Students willing to participate choose their own level of commitment. For example, in the Arts area—which includes art, dance, music, and theatre—students have options to be involved in whatever direction their interests  take them. This could be a simple, one-day dance workshop or more involved commitment in Folk Dance USA.

In addition to participating, students also have the opportunity to manage an area of the Activities Program as student directors. There are over 24 student directors, who change every semester, along with hundreds of student volunteers. Together they run programs like music, intramurals, entertainment, debate, theatre, outdoor recreation, campus dances, and competitive athletics.

How is the Activities Program able to offer students such great experiences? It is finding ways to tie the needs of students and academics together. This program enhances what’s being taught in the classroom and discovers creative ways to facilitate each student’s academic experience.

Scott Milam, a senior in business management from Covington, Wash., is the student director over the Brigham Young Basketball League, a group that functions under the Physical area of the Activities Program. Milam recently finished conducting a three-day tryout for this season’s league in which 160 students competed to fill the rosters of ten teams. “Running all this is a big responsibility,” Milam says. “I’ve been able to gain a lot of skills that will be an asset to me later in the business world.”        

From practice schedules to coaching decisions, managing the league keeps Milam on his toes. However, that’s not the only thing that keeps him moving. In addition to Milam’s responsibilities as the director of the league, he also participates as a player.

For Milam, competing in the Athletics Program is more than just playing a game. “The most important lesson I’ve learned isn’t about basketball—it’s about consistency. Do I act the same way on the court with my teammates as I do in my religion class or in my role as a husband and father? In the end that’s what’s most important.”

Being a part of the Athletics Program gives students like Milam the opportunity to play collegiate sports at a highly competitive level, while applying management skills learned in the classroom. At the same time, his contribution opens the door for hundreds of other students to participate as well. Student coaches, referees, equipment managers, trainers, announcers, and cheerleaders help make each game a success.

One of the strongest points the Activities Program has to offer is that it helps participants develop personal and spiritual qualities and prepares them for life beyond the campus. Devin Shaum, director of the Activities Program, says, “This program is much more than just ball games, art shows, or entertainment. The real genius behind the program is that it gives students an opportunity to lead, guide, and direct.”

In the Department of Business Management, senior students enrolled in a capstone class work directly with the Activities Program through the Outdoor Recreation Center. The center operates as a nonprofit rental business catering to outdoor enthusiasts looking for fun but lacking equipment. Students in the capstone class help plan, organize, lead, and manage operations of an actual ongoing business. The Outdoor Recreation Center provides an opportunity for business students to use their newly acquired skills.

The result of the combined effort is a success for business students and the Outdoor Recreation Center. Recently, a capstone student developed a computer system that enables better tracking of rental equipment. The new system provides valuable knowledge and is making the business more efficient.

In addition, students are working on other ideas to improve the Outdoor Recreation Center. Some ideas include updating the Web site, creating an online magazine promoting upcoming events, and installing an I-card scanner allowing students to rent equipment by swiping their university-issued identification card.

Diane Toone, a senior from Grace, Idaho, and a member of the capstone class, says, “This experience has taught me how to manage different personalities and get people to work together. I have also learned how to organize and run a business.”

The diverse Activities Program is proving that attending BYU–Idaho is more than just sitting in a classroom. It gives students the kind of confidence that says, “Yes, I can do that; I can make a difference.” It helps students visualize the potential of their education. President David A. Bednar refers to the Activities Program as “an experiential laboratory.” He says, “Students who take the opportunity to participate in the Activities Program will learn valuable skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

Megan Perkins, a senior from Turlock, Calif., is one student who is benefiting from such an education. Perkins will be graduating this semester with a degree in communication with an emphasis in advertising. For the last two years she has participated in a collaborative organization called the Student Communication Agency (SCA) involving the Activities Program and academics. SCA acts as an advertising and marketing agency serving clients throughout the campus. If there is a need for “student-to-student” advertising, public relations, or promotions, SCA steps in to offer its services.

Perkins, now the executive director of SCA, says, “This organization is great because it’s full of students who are eager to practice the things they are learning in the classroom and get hands-on experience. I discuss different projects we are working on with my teachers, and I don’t sell my textbooks back anymore because I refer to them too often.”

Students majoring in business, communications, or graphic design all work together bringing different ideas and creativity to SCA. The program gives those involved a great opportunity to explore what they are learning by helping promote the latest school events.

The Activities Program is evolving as it paves the way for students to enhance the skills they have come to BYU–Idaho to attain. Garth Hall, vice president of Advancement, says, “Activities is an inspired program. Understanding this concept is a key to realizing that the Activities Program will continue to grow and be an asset to every student’s education at this university.”

The Activities Program has found its place at BYU–Idaho. It’s a one-of-a-kind program helping students make the most of their education. Jennifer Bird, a junior from Kent, Wash., says smiling, “The best thing about the Activities Program is that it makes each student’s academic experience come alive.”

Just as the Chinese proverb states, “not to advance is to drop back.” At BYU–Idaho, the Activities Program is making the innovative connections that will continue to advance students upstream and into their future. SM