BYU-Idaho Pathway program opens doors of learning around the world

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SANTIAGO, Chile — It is a small building, almost invisible to the passersby scuttling along the dark streets of Santiago, but a humble, white plaque makes its mark: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute Building.”  The doors open and light pours out as the chatter of voices spills onto the street. Tonight is Pathway night.

Pathway is an educational organization in partnership with BYU–Idaho that works to give students around the world the opportunity to receive an affordable education and develop the confidence and skills necessary to be successful in college.

Pathway students at their weekly meeting in Santiago, Chile. (Liesl Nielsen)
Pathway students study at their weekly meeting in Santiago, Chile. (Liesl Nielsen)

“Pathway is about hope: hope for people who didn’t think they could get a college education because they didn’t do well enough in high school, or hope for people who didn’t think they could get a better job; hope for people who feel like life has passed them by,” said BYU–Idaho administrator Rob Eaton in a Pathway promotional video.

Pathway combines online courses from BYU–Idaho with local gatherings every week where students can share what they’ve learned in their courses. College credit earned by participating in the program can be transferred to BYU–Idaho and other universities.

“There are two things that make Pathway a great deal for so many,” said Sister Nannette Wiggins, the missionary site leader of the Pathway program in Orem. “First of all, they can stay home and take classes from the comfort of their own home or from wherever in the world they may be. There was a girl in the program that ended up having to go back to her home in Italy, and she was so excited to learn that she would be able to continue with the program. And second, Pathway does not require a GPA or an ACT score or an entrance essay to participate.”

The only prerequisite to the program is a basic, working knowledge of English. Those who claim English as their native language are placed in “Standard Version” classes, while non-native speakers are required to take a language test. If they have an intermediate to low English proficiency, they are placed in the “L Version” classes that also focus on improving language skills.

According to Sergio Gutierrez, a member of the LDS Church High Council in Santiago, Pathway has helped him do just that.

“It’s kind of hard to study here in Chile because it’s kind of expensive. When I learned about Pathway, I thought, ‘That’s for me.’ I’ve improved my English, but the teachings I received through Pathway really helped me a lot to strengthen my testimony too, and to learn more about the gospel,” Gutierrez said. “I have changed my attitude towards a lot of things because of Pathway. I think about the Honor Code and I’m always aware of it.  I want to live the Honor Code in my job, with my friends, with my clients and in my home.”

Pathway offers courses not only in mathematics and basic writing, but also in religion. When the students meet each week, they are generally given the opportunity to share the spiritual insights they’ve gained during the week. Though many non-native speakers have found this difficult in the beginning, they discover that it becomes easier each time they do it.

Michel Galatayud discusses the benefits of the Pathway program. (Liesl Nielsen)

“I’ve benefited in so many ways from Pathway, especially in the spiritual,” said Pathway student Michel Galatayud. “It’s very interesting because in a secular university, you don’t start classes with a prayer, and that’s very interesting to me that we do here because we invite the Holy Ghost to help us to understand. I’ve never felt a spirit so strong in a class.”

Students who complete the program, which generally takes about one year, and receive a B grade or better in their classes can be accepted to BYU–Idaho and continue online classes for a small fraction of the tuition price. Credits they’ve earned from the program automatically go towards helping them earn a degree.

“It’s every kind of person that we see here,” Sister Wiggins said. “It’s your brother who just got out of jail, your sister who just got married after her first semester and wants to continue studying; it’s your mother, your bishop, your stake president.”

And to Gutierrez, this opportunity is nothing short of miraculous.

“When I came home from my mission, I almost went to BYU–Idaho, but I wasn’t able to for different reasons,” Gutierrez said. “So I saw Pathway as an opportunity to make an old dream come true.”

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