Pathway and Online Degree students gather for conference

Brigham Young University-Idaho's Pathway program held its first ever Connections Conference for Pathway and Online Degree students in Phoenix on March 11. The conference aimed to help build centers of strength for its burgeoning online program.

Following President Gilbert's inaugural speech, Pathway Domestic Director Bryan Justesen and colleagues visited students in Phoenix-an area that has around 1,600 Pathway and Online Degree students-and held focus groups to see what they thought would help them have a more fulfilling BYU-Idaho experience.

While in these focus groups, Justesen said a majority of the online students said they felt isolated once they left the Pathway program, and asked if they would be able to physically come together, so they could meet others who are in their major. Plans for the Connections Conference began soon after, as an event where students could network with each other, as well as be inspired by speakers and gain valuable insights into becoming better students.

"It is primarily for them to have a BYU-Idaho experience, especially for the Online Degree students who are on their own, and are not gathering anymore," said Pathway Area Manager Mike Cordon. "To still feel connected to the university, I think is important, and they've told us that."

More than 500 students, missionaries, and guests attended the conference where they were able to hear from two speakers-Richie Norton and President Gilbert-in addition to mingling with each other throughout the gathering.

"We got to see them very eager for some sense of community, some sense of connection with other people who are doing the same thing they are," Justesen said.

Richie Norton, a motivational speaker, best-selling author, and entrepreneur, spoke about starting to live today, and overcoming whatever is in the way of achieving their goals. President Gilbert spoke about the growth in the Online Degree program in Arizona, as well as how students can discover their passion, network effectively, and tell their story.

The Pathway program looks at this conference as a kickstarter where these conferences will begin happening regularly throughout the year. In the future, the conferences will begin to focus more on building skills with career workshops and fairs. In addition, Pathway and Online Learning is looking to hold conferences in other areas of strength such as Mexico City.

"I think we can build a real strong sense of community, a learning community," Justesen said. "I think that will strengthen them, and I think it will also strengthen their families, and whenever we strengthen families, we strengthen the Church."