The Young Single Adult 16th Stake is redefining the institute experience by involving members of the stake as teachers and creating both a gospel and social experience for institute members. The YSA 16th Stake Institute of Religion has set high standards by increasing their attendance to an average of 400 students per class.
- A group of students socializes and enjoys refreshments after institute.
Richard Wilson, who serves as the 1st counselor in the YSA 16th Stake Presidency, said their numbers weren’t always so high.“In the past we had some success with the institute program, but it went up and down anywhere from 30 people coming to institute to maybe up to 100 people,” he said. “But about two years ago we decided we needed to change our focus and find a way to grow that from 40 people to 400 people.”
Wilson put together an institute council with members selected from the young, single adults in their stake.
“I decided we needed dynamic and mature co-chair leaders to see how far we could take a mid-week institute activity,” he said.
The first step was to change how the classes were run.
Wilson said they had tried using traditional teachers who were much older than the students. They soon learned that in order to meet their goal of raising attendance, they needed teachers the students could better relate to.
“It was when we went to having our own young, single adults doing the teaching that we were able to really impact the members of the institute,” he said. “They loved the fact that it was young single adults teaching.”
David Nelson, one of the YSA 16th Stake institute teachers, said students respond well to teachers in their same demographic.
“We have bishopric members, high councilmen, stake presidents that are much older than we are –they are in a different phase,” he said. “So I think that having an institute program that is taught by the same age group that they’re speaking to is really what creates a different dynamic.”
Nelson said because both students and teachers are in the same age group, the classroom operates in a modern way.
“We’re younger teachers and so we do things differently in our class,” he said. “We use Twitter quite a bit, we have a fan page, a website and we use text messaging to let people know about class. We utilize technology that’s much more native to our generation for the class.”
BYU graduate Jill Hollingshead from Centerville who attends institute, said learning from other young, single adults makes for a better classroom experience.
“I feel like they are easy to relate to because they are going through it with you — they understand,” she said. “It’s fun to hear from someone who thinks like you do and who talks like you do. They speak to us a little differently and they can hit a chord that maybe someone older wouldn’t be able to.”
Because Nelson and the other teachers are in the same phase of life as their students, they have first hand experience of the unique struggles young, single adults deal with. Nelson said he and the other teachers focus on the “hows” of the gospel and try to teach students how to use doctrine in their lives.
“Our goals for institute have been fairly basic but very deep in how we try to apply them,” he said. “We want to make sure that when our students leave our class that they feel that they’ve been armed with motivation and skills to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to their life. We want them to learn how they can bring the gospel of Jesus Christ as a solution to an issue that they’re going through. Whether that issue is knowing how to pray more intimately, or whether that issue is forgiving a family member for an offense, if their problem is just overcoming not having patience in the Lord’s timing, whatever it may be, that they have the motivation and the skill to be able to overcome that.”
Nelson said that as he’s taught institute over the past three years, he’s learned that attending institute is a vital part of young, single adults’ lives.
“Institute can be pivotal for keeping single members of that age group on the straight and narrow,” he said.
Matthew Blood, co-chair of the YSA 16th Institute Council, said he and other council members regularly poll students to see why they come to institute.
“The No. 1, overwhelming response was the spirit that people felt when they attended institute,” he said. “I attribute that directly to the teachers and how well they are prepared and how well they instruct.”
Hollingshead said she attends institute because of the strength she receives from the lessons and from other class members.
“When I’ve been in a slump or when I’ve struggled with things, it’s really nice to have the opportunity to feel the spirit and to hear a scripture, thought or insight during a time of need,” she said.
Nelson said one thing he does that might be different than other institute classes is encourage group work.
“We try to have group activities really frequently,” he said. “If there is a hall full of 300 people, we’ll have them get into clusters of three or four, give them activities to do in their groups, discuss with their groups and then share with the class. Typically, we try to do an activity like that maybe four plus times per lesson.”
Emphasizing group participation and discussion is something Nelson said he believes strongly in.
“There is a heavy, heavy, reliance on participation,” he said. “That might not be that revolutionary but it certainly has worked well in our class.”
Another way in which students are taught the gospel is from listening to monthly guest lecturers. Sister Elaine Dalton, President of the General Young Women, came and spoke to the YSA 16th Stake at the beginning of fall semester. Wilson reported there were more than 1,000 students in attendance.
The 16th stake wants to create an atmosphere where students can come not only to learn, but to socialize.
“We try to create a good, healthy, social environment,” Nelson said. “We have food afterward and we have get to know you opportunities for people during class.”
Hollingshead said serving food after class gives students an excuse to socialize and meet new people.
“They’re trying to combat loneliness in our age demographic,” she said. “It’s very common, so they’ve provided meals or a dessert after in a big open area where people can stay and talk. It opens the door for other opportunities to be social.”
Wilson said reactivation and fellowship are part of the mission of institute.
“We believe that when people are less active and aren’t comfortable coming to church, it is easier to get them to come to institute during the week and meet with kids their age,” he said. “This is a good way to ease them in to activity. We’re starting to see some success with that.”
Wilson said he is thrilled with the rising number of students attending institute.
“We clearly have momentum and it’s growing,” he said. “People want to come be a part of institute in the 16th stake and we love that.”
The YSA 16th Stake Institute of Religion meets in the Jesse Knight Building Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Those interested in more information can go to churchystuff.com.