Skip to main content

BYU-Idaho's Welcome Center Becomes New Arrival Point for Prospective Students

welcome center smaller.jpeg

When Natalie Gay took the lead over campus tours in 2017, she knew that something needed to change. At the time, tours began at the university’s Admissions Office. While typically spacious and orderly, the office became claustrophobic and exhausting when a group of 57 prospective students entered and only 12 could sit in chairs. The change Natalie envisioned is now embodied in Brigham Young University-Idaho’s Welcome Center, located in the Hyrum G. Manwaring Center (MC). Complete with an 80-person seating capacity, fireplace rooms, and a central campus location, visitors are greeted with warmth, comfort, and the Spirit as soon as they begin their touring experience.

BYU-Idaho saw nearly 7,000 visitors in the past year. In each of the two years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the university saw close to 8,000 visitors. In a survey, all 63 respondents answered “yes” or “maybe” to the question of whether they were more likely to attend BYU-Idaho because of the tour.

The importance of the college tour to a prospective student’s likelihood of attending drove Natalie to improve Admission’s overall experience.

The Admissions Office was simply too small to accommodate the dozens of visitors coming onto campus daily. Aside from the space and logistics, it was not the first impression Natalie wanted them to have of the university.

Most visitors, 78 percent, wait at least 20 minutes for a tour. Crammed in an office, families sitting on each other’s laps, or having to wait outside in the slightly more accommodating Spencer W. Kimball building’s lobby was not a good first impression.

For Natalie, the “miracle” of the Welcome Center began in 2018 when she attended a conference on college visitor services. With the vision of relocating visitors to a more centralized location of the university in mind, Natalie sat in on a session on campus welcome centers. This prompted her to travel with her husband, David Gay, to visit welcome centers at colleges all over Idaho and Utah. Natalie then pitched her idea to Student Life Vice President Amy LaBaugh who was immediately supportive and told her to have a proposal on her desk by the end of the week.

Aside from accompanying his wife on her tour of college welcome centers, David was involved in the development process from the very beginning. As a campus architect for the last 10 years, David knew that the Manwaring Center was undergoing extensive renovations with the goal of creating a more student-focused building. Offices that were designed for specific departments or majors were moved out and replaced with centers focused on student involvement and assistance. University planners wanted to encourage students to spend more time in the MC. Considering those factors, David recommended the MC as the location for this proposed Welcome Center.

The goal of creating a warm, welcoming environment that emanated the Spirit was a crucial factor in the design process, in which David played a large role. The Welcome Center stands on the second floor of the MC across from the John Taylor Building. Upon arranging a tour, guests may wait in one of the two fireplace rooms adjacent to the main meeting room, which, in contrast to the Admissions Office, can seat 80 people. The fireplace rooms are complete with comfortable couches and a TV that displays information about the university. Glass windows on the sides help prospective students develop an instant connection to BYU-Idaho as they can view current students going about their day-to-day college lives and feel like they are already part of the campus body. Some of the other welcome centers Natalie and David visited had stood apart from the rest of campus.

“We wanted this to be a middle part of campus so those prospective students, when they came, could already feel like they belonged here,” Natalie said.

The designers ensured that the Spirit of BYU-Idaho remained present even within the materials themselves. Builders used oak wood in reference to the Jacob Spori prophecy that “the seeds we’re planting today will grow and become mighty oaks and their branches will run all over the earth.”

Within that fireplace alcove, next to the entrance to the main meeting room, are several Ricks College yearbooks.

“Many alumni come here and bring their kids and so they come like, ‘Oh, well I want to see if I can find myself,’” Natalie said.

When visitors enter the meeting room, they are offered a wider glimpse into student life. On the other side is The Crossroads where students regularly eat meals, study, and interact with their friends.

“We want them to be able to look out and see the students, you know, watching the World Cup or eating Chick-fil-A or walking into class. That's a very, very important part,” Natalie said.

Once settled in, visitors watch a new video made just for the Welcome Center that displays the various activities and programs available at BYU-Idaho.

Of course, while visitors may be awed by what they see around them and in the video, the meeting room is not just a showroom. Natalie says it’s a place where you can feel the Spirit.

“It's not just showing them, because you can show them anything. But it's helping them feel that there is something different and that they can feel that BYU-Idaho is a unique place,” Natalie said.

In the last part of the video, prospective students are introduced to a prophecy declared by President Henry B. Eyring that “those graduates of BYU-Idaho will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve.”

According to Natalie, this is only phase two. There is more to add and more ways to utilize the space. This includes having various academic departments showcase their programs and having the Financial Aid, Housing, and Advising offices speak as well.

For now, the Welcome Center lives up to its name as a place for prospective students and their families to gather and be welcomed to BYU-Idaho.