Feature-style Story: Inspiring Learning

I wrote this feature story for a BYU class, based on a real speech given by the university president, Kevin J. Worthen. We had to meet certain criteria, and the mold I chose to fill with the speech was a “how-to” style story. Enjoy!

How to make an inspiring university

BYU President Kevin J. Worthen spells out the recipe for a successful university experience

PROVO, Utah—If you ask a college student what the ingredients are to a university experience, some common answers would probably include ramen noodles, late nights at the library and awesome (or not so awesome) roommates. While those ingredients are valid, there are more pertinent components. So, BYU President Kevin J. Worthen offers some alternative elements to make a truly inspirational university recipe.

At the annual University Conference on August 22, 2016, President Worthen spoke about “inspiring learning,” which he explained means both the inspiration for students to learn, and the type of learning that leads to inspiration. These two words—inspiring learning—effectively summarize BYU’s mission as a university. He then explored the ways that this can and should be true at BYU—outlining some key ingredients for an inspiring university.

First, any good university needs a rock-solid mission statement. A strong foundational vision for a university ensures a good starting point at least. In his speech, President Worthen says that the mission statement can be boiled down “to four main points: we are to provide learning that is (1) spiritually strengthening, (2) intellectually enlarging, (3) character building, and leading to (4) lifelong learning and service.”

Second, a university is only as inspiring as its students. Like the various instruments in an orchestra, a diverse and engaged student body creates a harmonious university. This past January, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen came to campus as a guest lecturer. He says, “I found the BYU students a joy to teach. They were extremely engaged… It was one of the best experiences I have had in 30 years as a professor.”

Inspiring students should not only inspire the professors they see daily, but anyone who sets foot on campus. Such students buck the stereotype of apathetic 20-somethings and create a new image for what college students can be.

Third, inspiring learning should not only take place on campus—in fact, research shows that experiential learning is more impactful. On this subject President Worthen says, “let me suggest that one way we can enhance the quality of inspiring learning at BYU is to expand both the quantity and quality of the kind of learning that occurs outside the formal classroom—the kind of instruction that many call ‘experiential learning.’ Just like classroom learning, experiential learning can produce the kind of inspiring learning that our mission statement challenges us to provide.”

A 2014 survey of approximately 30,000 college students conducted by Purdue University and the Gallup Poll found that the chances that individuals would thrive at work doubled if during college they “had an internship or job where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom.” A good university teaches students on their seats and in the streets.

Fourth, an inspiring university needs inspiring teachers. President Worthen stressed that teachers should work hard to be mentors and build lasting relationships with students. According to data from the 2014 Gallup-Purdue survey mentioned earlier, a graduate’s chances of thriving at work and in life doubled if the student “had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.”

By now it should be clear that the recipe for an inspiring university can’t be found on the label of ramen noodles or in the Easy Bake Oven cookbook. Hard work and commitment are required by all contributing parties, and that’s just the way it should be. All the best recipes require a little extra effort.

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