Highlights from BYU Colleges: Alumna dances for Disney, university orchestra wins Broadway award

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College of Fine Arts and Communications

BYU alum Bronwen Merrill landed her dream job dancing for Disneyland Paris. (Bronwen Merrill)

BYU alum Bronwen Merrill (BA ’17) just landed her dream job as a dancer for Disneyland Paris and is proof that dreams really do come true with a lot of patience and hard work.

Merrill grew up planning to dance for Disney but had to take a few detours after graduating from BYU. These included moving to China with her husband to teach English for four months, joining BYU’s Department of Dance to teach beginning ballet classes, and performing in plays at Utah Valley theaters. It wasn’t until she and her husband recently moved to Florida, hoping to settle down, that a contract came from Disneyland Paris. Her husband reevaluated his career path, they sold their house, and the Merrills moved to France so Bronwen could begin work as a character performer and parade dancer. Merrill credits her unexpected post-graduation challenges as the experiences that gave her the most crucial skills to achieve her dreams.

“I just wish that more people believed in themselves enough to chase the dreams that they have,” Merrill said. “It’s so worth it. I just want to shout that message from the rooftops.”

You can follow her journey on Instagram @bronwen.darling.

Broadway’s Lea Solonga, left, and BYU Chamber Orchestra won the 2020 Broadway World Album Award. (Nathalie Van Empel)

The BYU Chamber Orchestra and Broadway performer Lea Salonga earned the 2020 Broadway World Album Award for Best New EP/Solo Release for an album they collaborated on in 2017. This was an unprecedented accomplishment, as it is rare for a university to earn such a prestigious award, especially one that includes such accomplished competition as Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton” and Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Titled “The Story of My Life: Lea Salonga Live from Manila,” the album owes its success to not only the talented orchestra and Solonga but also the School of Music, the BYU Performing Arts Management, and BYU donors.

“This isn’t a college award; it’s an award for professionally produced albums on Broadway,” said BYU professor and performance conductor Kory Katseanes. “It’s unbelievable — but not undeserved — that BYU won.”

Watch Solonga and the BYU Chamber Orchestra perform “On My Own” from Les Miserables.


Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering

BYU students worked with UTOPIA Fiber to develop a tool for detecting wildfires before they spread. (AP Photo/Sergio Azenha)

A team of BYU students created an early-detection tool to catch wildfires before they spread out of control. Seniors studying information technology and cybersecurity worked with UTOPIA Fiber, an internet connectivity provider, to develop the Early-Detection Wildfire Imaging Network (EDWIN). When EDWIN detects a temperature greater than 300 degrees Fahrenheit through its thermal imaging cameras, the program sends an alert to the nearest fire department. Each reduced minute of response time due to EDWIN is expected to save $44,000 to $215,000.

“Being able to build something we know would actually help people and then watching it come to fruition was very fulfilling,” project member Ben Dorton said. EDWIN is now in use in Layton, Woodland Hills, and Murray, Utah. Graduated project members Chaz Nelson and Hayden Redford have recently been hired by UTOPIA Fiber and are working to expand EDWIN across the west.


General News

BYU announced the creation of the David E. and Verla A. Sorensen Center for Moral and Ethical Leadership (Verla A. and David E. Sorensen)

A new leadership center at BYU will host experiential learning opportunities for students and faculty while setting a worldwide example for morally driven leadership. The Sorensen Center for Moral and Ethical Leadership, named for Verla A. Sorensen and her late husband David E. Sorensen, is being funded by a $40 million gift from their family.

David Sorensen was a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1992 until his death in 2014. The Sorensens both attended BYU, have donated to and invested in the university since 1976, and have been on the President’s Leadership Council for almost 20 years.

“I think this center will speak to the world and will speak to all the people who believe in the importance of high morals and unflinching ethics,” Verla Sorensen said.


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