Mechanical engineering professor counsels students on navigating through life

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BYU mechanical engineering professor Timothy McLain told students to follow the feedback they receive from the Holy Ghost in his devotional address. (Maddi Driggs)
BYU mechanical engineering professor Timothy McLain used his drone research as a gospel metaphor in his devotional address given Jun. 28 in the JSB Auditorium. McLain encouraged students to follow the feedback they receive from the Holy Ghost as they navigate their way through life. (Maddi Driggs)

Students and faculty filled the JSB Auditorium on Tuesday, Jun. 28 to hear BYU mechanical engineering professor Timothy McLain’s devotional address. McLain used his experiences researching drone navigation as a metaphor for navigating through life.

McLain encouraged students to follow the same steps he takes in his drone research to reach their goals in life. These steps included starting with a vision of the path they should take, assessing their progress along the path, using reason to determine the best way they could improve and exercising agency to lead them toward their desired objective.

When students evaluate their position in relation to their desired objectives and then work to move toward them, this action can be assimilated to a technical term called “feedback,” according to McLain. He explained that feedback has proved to be vital in many technological advances.

“This principle of feedback is powerful and it is finding its way into our daily lives in more and more ways,” McLain said. “Whether we realize it or not, we all use feedback to make decisions that guide our actions.”

McLain explained that the Liahona in the Book of Mormon was a feedback device for Lehi and his family as it led them through the wilderness according to their faith, diligence and heed to its directions. He said the Liahona is like the spiritual feedback found in “the words of Christ,” such as the scriptures.

“The wonderful thing is that we all have access to this power that comes from being faithful, diligent, and heedful, and fortunately it doesn’t require having our own real Liahona hardware,” McLain said.

Students should seek accurate and frequent feedback from sources such as the scriptures and the Holy Ghost in order to effectively stay on the path leading to their goals, according to McLain.

“The gift of the Holy Ghost is an amazing form of spiritual feedback for us,” McLain said. “It is the primary means by which our Heavenly Father influences our lives.”

As students live close to the Spirit, they will receive guidance that will challenge them to do things outside of their comfort zones, such as serving a mission, pursuing an advanced degree or even asking someone on a date, according to McLain.

“The guidance you receive through the Holy Ghost may at times feel risky or even induce within you feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure,” McLain said. “Don’t be afraid. Recognize the source of the promptings you are receiving and have the faith to act.”

A personal example McLain shared was his decision to pursue a doctoral degree following some counsel from his graduate advisor, Joseph Free. McLain said although he was hesitant to leave his job and situation in life at the time, following his spiritual prompting to go back to school led to some of the most “challenging, fulfilling and fun” years his family had experienced.

“As we move through life, we can sometimes become distracted from our important objectives,” McLain said. “It is critical to remember that helpful guidance and feedback in our journey can come from inspired friends, leaders, and loved ones.”

Students should not be discouraged or compare their progress to others’ when life’s path doesn’t go exactly as planned, according to McLain. He gave the example of navigating drones, which requires researchers to constantly take risks and expect some crashes.

“Unlike with drones, our crashes in life, whether due to our own sins or weaknesses, or the random difficulties of life, do not result in permanent damage,” McLain said. “We can be repaired and made whole again through the atoning sacrifice of the Savior.”

McLain said he believes students will reach their objectives in life as they follow the divine feedback they receive from the Holy Ghost.

“It is my hope that we can be faithful and diligent in doing the small things that will allow this guiding feedback to be both frequent and perfectly accurate, leading us to the great things that God has intended for us,” McLain said.

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