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Continuing the Tradition

A SMILE and a
HELLO
THE BYU-IDAHO EXPERIENCE YESTERDAY & TODAY

By Brett Sampson '88        

That’s the friendliness, the atmosphere, even the spirit alumni generally remember about being at BYU–Idaho.

While I was walking across campus recently and passing smiles and hellos repeatedly, I reflected on my time as a student here.  

I remembered studying for hours on the third floor of the library. I recalled the wonder and shock I felt when teachers gave us their home phone numbers in case we needed anything. I thought of the invaluable free tutoring sessions, five nights each week—for Math 100. I smiled at the thought of memorizing biology terms in the lobby of the Snow
Building with Norma. I remembered the study group Brother Mel Griffeth organized for those of us who got, uh, less than a ‘C’ on his first test.  

Then there were flashes of living with roommates, intramurals, recording a commercial for KRIC, and the college ski trip to Grand Targhee. I have cherished memories of going to almost all the dances with Monica, sharing a room with Brian, having Mexican pizza at the Nordic with Bret, and taping music with Jill.  

After this flood of thoughts, I was again brought back to students and teachers smiling at me as they passed (sometimes after slipping on ice) and saying “hello.” 

This level of expressed friendliness would be easy to forget if I hadn’t been to other campuses and other cities. That little difference—actually greeting one another—sums up the uniqueness of BYU–Idaho for me.  

From the time of its inception, through all its growth and names, there is something especially different about this place. It affects those who are drawn here and those who leave forever changed. 

After Ricks College
My overall experience at Ricks College became the foundation for the rest of my college career. I played a lot, but I studied more. Frankly, the GPA I worked hard to establish at Ricks carried me through those couple of not-so-good semesters down the road. 

Amidst all the fun and hard work, I experienced nurtured growth. Away from home for essentially the first extended period of time, I found a little more of myself. I learned new things and learned to enjoy the challenge of doing so. There were glimpses of my future.

Today
I left this marvelously unique place, well, almost as many years ago as the freshmen are old now. After a full-time mission, more school, marriage, beginning a career, and having children, I came back to Ricks College. In addition to managing communications for philanthropic opportunities at BYU–Idaho, I have the opportunity to teach a couple of public speaking classes at night. The experiential table has turned. Now I’m a teacher here.

I am the one sitting at my desk worried about the newest member of my class who is on a six-month medical release from his mission. It’s me talking with a couple of students after class about their fears and struggles with an upcoming assignment. I am the one calling a young man at home because I am concerned that he missed two classes in a row. And it is me that the student thanked God for in his opening prayer before our class last week.

A Wonderfully Typical Experience
I’ve talked to, interviewed, and surveyed hundreds of alumni over the years. My conclusion came easily. My experiences here were wonderfully typical.

In a recent survey our office conducted among randomly selected alumni, 97 percent said their experience at BYU–Idaho/Ricks College was positive and that they are proud of being an alumnus.

A total of 72 percent said they would characterize BYU–Idaho’s reputation as being positive in their geographic area (which includes the 41 states in which the respondents reside)—a pretty impressive statement for a relatively new university.

These results were really not a surprise, however. For years alumni—many of whom have transferred to other colleges and universities—say their time here was the best overall experience of their college careers.

Our Most Recent Alumni
One may wonder specifically about the experiences of the most recent graduates. Did their time here affect them like it did me? Do they look back fondly? How has graduating from what is now a four-year university carrying a world-recognized name helped their careers and lives?

As hoped for and expected from everything to do with the recent transition, I find the current collegiate experience is consistent with the long tradition of this school. And the professional futures of our young alumni are more promising than ever before.

Sherri K ’02 and Josh Gunn ’01 from Provo, Utah, are two alumni who have recently left campus. They knew each other in high school but became sweethearts while at BYU–Idaho.

Sherri began the nursing program with the goal of getting her RN associate degree, but as a result of the transition was able to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in April of 2003. Sherri is now working at an ambulatory surgical center and is expecting their first child.

Josh left Ricks College in 2000 to serve in the Canada Vancouver Mission. He returned and transferred to BYU in Provo where he is currently pursuing his degree in Electrical Engineering.

Of her time at BYU–Idaho Sherri says, “It helped me understand who I am and what I want from life. Maintaining the Spirit of Ricks helped me grow and mature emotionally, socially, and spiritually. The teachers in all of my classes were really concerned about me and my education which made me also   want to strive to succeed. I have continued that drive to succeed in the workforce and in life in general.”

As for her professional preparation, Sherri’s BYU–Idaho degree has made her a very “marketable nurse.” As she looked for her first job out of school, prospective employers were impressed with her knowledge, specific schooling experiences, and those hard-to-describe qualities peculiar to our graduates.

As for Josh’s perspective, he says, “BYU–Idaho is an environment in which people come to be with others of similar values. My experience at BYU–Idaho has helped me more fully apply the gospel into every aspect of my life.”

Sara Mathews ’03 is from Shelley, Idaho, and the oldest of eight children. She graduated in December 2003 after relishing a secular and spiritual education that included representing BYU–Idaho as a student teacher in a city much bigger than her hometown.

In her words, “BYU–Idaho taught me who I want to become in life, who I want my children to become, and the mother that I want to become. I am looking forward to the opportunity to give back to this school after all that has been given to me. It’s truly a place where the Spirit dwells, and it teaches us day to day. It’s not just the professors and how well they prepared me. I thank those who donated to make my education possible, and I thank my Heavenly Father. Now I can go and share my love of learning with my own students. I am so grateful for that opportunity.”

Sarah’s career path looks very good. She was quickly hired after she did her student teaching in the ever-growing area of Las Vegas, Nevada. Clark County School District, in which Sarah works, has indicated that they will take as many student teachers as BYU–Idaho can provide. At the core, the students today are not only graduating with a sound academic base, but with that extra light in their eyes that is immediately recognizable by others around the world.

Natalie ’05 and Brandon Waltman ’05 are both students in the construction management program. In this challenging area, they have been able to learn, compete in national competitions, and complete prestigious internships. They are graduating together this April.

Brandon is from Middleton, Idaho, and is ninth of 12 children. He will be the first in his family to earn a college degree. Brandon credits the work ethic he acquired at home and the environment in which he learned at BYU–Idaho with helping him become the example he now is to other family members.

During the summer 2003, he was an intern for Pulte Home Corporation, the largest residential building company in the world. He worked on the beginning stages of an eight-year, 800 home development in Dixon, California. Pulte wanted Natalie to come work with him through the summer of 2004. “She’s a lot smarter than I am,” he says. He was on site and she worked in customer service, “making sure people were happy with his work,” she quips.

Of her educational and work experience, Natalie says, “Sure I could go out and build a home for you, but at BYU–Idaho they’re preparing us for more than that. They’re preparing us to be fathers and mothers and righteous people to help build up the kingdom. They’re preparing us to go out in the world and not only build those homes, or whatever it is we do with our educations, but to represent the gospel of Jesus Christ and share our testimonies throughout the world.”

The company they worked for, along with ten of the largest home building companies in the world, now sends their top executives to interview and recruit hundreds of students at BYU–Idaho.

What Ben Sweat ’03 did as a student here is a perfect example of combining the long-held practice of personal mentoring with the expectation that at this university students learn by acting instead of being acted upon.

Two years ago, upon seeing a need and opportunity on campus, Ben helped launch the Student Communications Agency (SCA), a student-run ad agency promoting campus activities.

“We created its identity, structure, and processes and were entrusted with acquiring the funding and managing the budget. I supervised nine student employees and sixty volunteers and reported to senior administration officials. They placed trust in me and allowed me to learn things that only come from doing.” He also met his future wife, Aprilanne Skeen ’03, while working together in SCA.

Aprilanne adds, “I had never been in a ‘Mormon’ community before BYU–Idaho, and it is something I will always cherish. I was able to get a very good education and at the same time be lifted up by the spirit that is all over the campus. The knowledge I gained helped me grow and be more prepared for the life that lies ahead.” She goes on to say, “BYU–Idaho gave me hands-on experience that I would not have had otherwise. It has helped me be a more desirable candidate for job positions. It also gave me many friends and relationships (including my husband) that I will cling to forever.”

Ben continues, “I think BYU–Idaho created the framework that enables me to be successful in every part of my life. I just feel like the school gave so much to me and now realize how important that time is to my future. My wife and I look forward to the time when we’ll be able to help the school on a grander scale.”

They are now living in Aprilanne’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Ben is working in the marketing department of a financial group and plans on attending business school in the fall. He is now waiting to hear back from Harvard and Darden (University of Virginia).

The Tradition Continues
The students and stories are countless. Each alumnus has a log of memories. These add to and even shape his or her life and the lives of coworkers, community, and Church and family members with whom they share that influence.

That long-loved tradition of gaining one’s education in such a welcoming environment is only now made better by the even more promising future of today’s BYU–Idaho associate and bachelor’s degree holders.

Potential students and others often initially hear about this unique institution and the feeling and learning that take place here before ever setting foot on campus.

Among current students, it seems there is an overwhelming understanding of the privilege it is to be here. That understanding, woven together with gratitude and a desire to build the kingdom, is often manifested in philanthropic support before and after graduating.

Providing the Experience
Back when I was a student—there I finally said it—I didn’t know of available scholarships. As with every alumnus, however, I benefited from the supplemented tuition and fine facilities provided by the Church that helped shape the experiences I had.  

Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends, there are even more scholarships available than when I was here. Currently almost 50 percent of all students receive some degree of financial assistance at BYU–Idaho, mostly made possible through privately donated funds. In keeping with the ideals of this place, though, there are no “superstar” scholarships; instead, partial-tuition scholarships are awarded to as many students as funds will allow, thereby sharing the blessings as widely as possible.

It is interesting and reassuring to hear alumni—young and not as young—along with parents, grandparents, and others express desires to financially support the school and what it provides young people.

What was the “Ricks experience” for me and thousands of other alumni, is still occurring at BYU–Idaho. It is real and even eternally significant in the lives of today’s students, yesterday’s graduates, and today’s alumni.

So alumni, enjoy your own remembrances of time spent in Rexburg. I hope those thoughts include the traditions you maintained, the legacy you left, and those now benefiting from your support.

Friends, your deep interest in our students at Brigham Young University–Idaho and what they gain, in part because of your generous donations, is much appreciated.

The students thank you and I thank you. SM

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