SPRING SUMMIT 2003 - Rethinking Education: It Begins With a Teacher

Changing Lives


 By LaNae H. Poulter ’71

BYU–Idaho is “rethinking education,” and innovative changes are affecting everything from admission to graduation. “Be prepared for change,” a seasoned BYU–Idaho student recently advised prospective students. A colleague quickly added, “Change is life.”
Three years have passed since the announcement that Ricks College would become BYU–Idaho. The transition is an on-going process of identifying problems, seeking personal inspiration and answers, and moving forward with faith. As recently stated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Something remarkable is happening on this campus.”1
There have been major milestones on the journey. Candidacy status for accreditation as a university was granted on March 22, 2001. The name of the school officially changed to Brigham Young University–Idaho on Aug. 10, 2001. Upper division classes were offered for the first time that same fall semester. To meet the needs of an expanding curriculum, additional faculty members are being added and physical facilities continue to be updated. Many of those involved in the university’s transition have adopted the perspective explained by Elder Eyring: “The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to change you so that you’re not trying to resist change. You’re trying to have change take you where the Lord wants you to go.”2

Admitting more students

BYU–Idaho is leading out in creative calendaring designed to allow more students to attend. Academic programs are available all year round to better utilize facilities and resources. An unusual and unique approach to enrollment admits students to one of three tracks—summer/fall, fall/winter, or winter/summer. So now, rather than denying admission to 30 percent of the applicants as was the case a few years ago, BYU–Idaho is able to offer an admission option to 97 percent of those who apply.
The Three Track System allows BYU–Idaho to serve 3,000 additional students in a calendar year. By the year 2005, the enrollment of students on campus at any one time is expected to be about 11,500. By rotating tracks, the anticipated total number of students served in a calendar year will be 14,600. Growth is incremental. Most notable to date is an 80 percent increase in the average summer enrollment since the transition was announced.
Max Checketts, academic vice president, has been involved in the progress. He reflects, “Just a few years ago we were thinking about how to serve more students and how to increase our summer utilization of resources. It was a very rewarding realization as I sat on the stand at the first devotional of the second summer block of 2003 and saw the Hart Auditorium nearly full. If we had not been innovative, the students would not be here.”

Redeveloping the curriculum

Academic changes are being made based on the needs of students. Every program on campus has been evaluated, and the overall academic structure has been realigned into 7 colleges and 36 academic departments.
The scope of academic courses has changed. Realizing the students’ diverse needs and goals, a two-tiered curriculum has been developed. In certain disciplines the option of receiving an associate degree remains, but there are also 49 bachelor’s programs. Several of the baccalaureate programs are designed as specialized majors that require the majority of the course work be within a specific discipline. In addition, ten educational composites for secondary education majors have been aligned between the Department of Education and specific content areas.
Another key element to the swiftly expanding curriculum is an exciting new concept of clusters that give students the option of identifying sets of classes complementary to their major. A cluster is comprised of 12-15 hours of course work that enables a student to develop a specific skill set related to his or her chosen vocation. As students link clusters with a major, they include upper division courses to ensure that adequate depth of skill development is achieved.
A large percentage of BYU–Idaho’s academic programs offer students the option of linking either a minor or two clusters to their major. The result is an individualized, integrated degree. For example, a business management major interested in operating an independent recreation outlet may build a broader base of knowledge by choosing a cluster of courses from recreation education and another in communication. Individual students assume the responsibility for identifying which clusters of courses will give them a broader base of marketable skills. “We want our students to be acting as opposed to always having someone telling them what to do,” says Checketts.
Along with creating options in course work, the faculty has streamlined the curriculum to enable students to complete the bachelor’s degree of their choice with 120 credit hours. To expedite the students’ progress, the number of online courses is expanding as a viable option,  even during their off-track semester.
Unlike most other institutions of higher education, BYU–Idaho has no faculty rank. The result is a faculty uniquely focused on the scholarship of learning and teaching. With this vantage point, they have been able to strategically analyze programs and redesign curriculum. The faculty is already delivering junior level courses in 47 of the 49 programs, and most areas are also offering the senior level. Checketts is impressed by the faculty’s willingness to adjust and make the necessary changes. “It takes a truly unique faculty to do what we have done as quickly as we have done it. Most campuses could not do it,” he explains. “It is important that we deliver to the students that which can help them be successful in life.”

Gaining meaningful experience

The faculty is implementing ways to make the curriculum more meaningful. Students gain hands-on experience through practicums, integrated course work, and senior capstone projects. The student’s off-track semester can be an ideal time to complete an academic internship.
An academic internship is a cooperative program between the university and approved experience providers. Internships are generally full-time, paid experiences lasting one academic semester. Because of the track system, internships are available year round—a benefit to students and the experience providers. As students return and report on their internship experiences, members of the faculty are able to keep their fingers on the pulse of current needs and advances in industry and technology. Internship experiences empower students with confidence.

Jeff Staker, a junior at BYU–Idaho, was selected as an intern for the Office of Naval Intelligence. He arrived in Washington, D.C., excited for the experience and yet humbled by the realization that other interns came from prestigious Ivy League schools. “And here I am from BYU–Idaho,” Jeff said. A guiding question posed by BYU–Idaho President David A. Bednar was ingrained in his mind: “How can I add value to this organization?”
Jeff worked at the Naval Maritime Center applying skills he had learned in the classroom and in student leadership positions. He prepared presentations and briefed naval captains about the internship program. His efforts and ethics were obvious to his supervisors, and he was selected to accompany Captain Tom Bortmes and his assistant on a trip to Europe where they participated in a gathering of international intelligence agencies.
As Jeff now returns to campus, he declares, “Schooling is no longer mundane because I have a glimpse of what it is like in the real world. My perspective has changed.”

Rewarding eight-semester graduates

A new incentive program to encourage students to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in a timely manner was announced by President Bednar during graduation ceremonies held Aug. 22, 2003. President Bednar said, “With this announcement we begin a university-wide effort to encourage students to complete their BYU–Idaho experience in a timely manner—thus enabling the school to serve more students.”3 He recognized the first students designated as eight-semester graduates.
Margie Martinez Hess said, “I was surprised when I opened the commencement program and saw that I was identified as an eight-semester graduate. I thought the only people they recognized were those with really good GPAs.” Margie’s accomplishments came along with some big life changes—becoming a wife and then a mother just three weeks prior to graduation. “When President Bednar made the announcement, I looked at my parents and family. They were cheering for me—for me staying focused and achieving the goal I had worked toward for so long.”
An additional surprise came with the distinction of completing requirements for a bachelor’s degree within eight semesters. President Bednar announced that qualifying graduates would receive a $500 cash award.
Kate Ammon, one of the honored graduates, was thrilled to learn of the award. She said, “I was already excited because I had graduated so quickly. The cash award was an extra bonus.”
The innovative idea of designating eight-semester graduates came from a desire to improve student throughput. The objectives are to save them time and money and also to free up space for others to attend. University Registrar Kevin Miyasaki sees time and resource management benefits. He says, “If we can teach our students to plan and organize from the very first day they come here, it will have an impact on them—not only economically but also as future citizens and employees.”

Continuing the process

Checketts says two words identify the process of innovation: patience and tolerance. “Thomas Edison is a good example. He found 999 ways not to create the light bulb before he found the one way to create it.” Checketts explains, “We have found a lot of ways not to do a lot of things right now. I’m actually quite amazed at how often we are getting some things right. I think that is an indication of inspiration, but it still requires a lot a patience.”
People often see things differently. Checketts feels it is important to be receptive to input until “you can at least see it from their perspective.” He verifies, “If you attack someone’s idea just because it is new, you will have very little innovation. You have to be tolerant. Listen to others because they have some great ideas.”
Characteristics of the transition can be seen in the lives of the students. They are learning to be patient and tolerant, identify problems, seek inspiration, and move forward with faith. They are preparing to fill the need recently described by President Thomas S. Monson when he said, “Increasingly we hear from leaders in business, professions, and government that it is easy to find people who can do what they are told but difficult to find people who know what to do without being told.”
President Monson’s counsel applies in the lives of individuals and to the ongoing transition at BYU–Idaho. He continued, “In our chosen fields, the obstacles confronting us may be mountainous in their appearance—even impassable in their challenge to our abilities. Press onward we must, for we understand full well that attacking is not solving. Complaining is not thinking. Ridiculing is not reasoning. Accountability is not for the intention but for the deed.”4SM

1. Hinckley, G. B. (2002, Oct. 22). “Dedication of Gordon B. Hinckley 
Building.” BYU–Idaho Devotional.

2. Eyring, H. B. (2001, Sept. 18). “Steady, Upward Course.” BYU–Idaho 

3. “BYU–Idaho announces its first ‘eight-semester graduates.’” (2003, Aug. 22).   

4. Monson, T. S. (2003, Aug. 22). “Guideposts for Life’s Journey.” BYU–Idaho