Undergraduate Associate Dean Christopher “Chip” Oscarson speaks on transformative power of education

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Associate Dean in Undergraduate Education Christopher “Chip” Oscarson gave a BYU devotional on the refining nature of receiving an education in the Marriott Center on Tuesday, June 27.

Oscarson began his devotional by describing a time when he invited professors from various universities to a multi-day workshop at BYU focused on Scandinavian studies, his area of expertise. One professor expressed to Oscarson how BYU reminded her of her own Christian upbringing, but with one significant difference — at BYU, religion and education not only coexist but support each other.

“Indeed, at BYU faith and education do not merely tolerate each other. They embrace each other. They catalyze and strengthen each other,” Oscarson said.

This, according to Oscarson, is what makes receiving an education at BYU a distinct and unique experience.

Oscarson continued by explaining his exposure to multiple languages throughout his life. He learned Swedish during his adolescent years in Sweden and learned French from his wife, who is a French native. He reflected on these language-learning opportunities as enriching experiences, increasing his gratitude and charity toward the world.

“Languages direct our attention in new ways,” he said. “The Spirit is a language too. It directs and enlightens our minds or causes our hearts to burn, filling us with the light of eternal truths.”

BYU encourages its students to gain a moral education in addition to a formal education, according to Oscarson.

“At BYU, we are not just open to revealed truth that is found, for instance, in scripture, but also to the capacity of all God’s children to receive revelation, wisdom and understanding through study and learning,” Oscarson said.

Chip Oscarson, an associate dean for BYU Undergraduate Education, delivers his June 27 devotional address in the Marriott Center. Oscarson spoke on the importance of education and how it can transform individuals’ lives. (Payton Pingree)

He explained that the general education aspect of BYU is often viewed as “mere hoops to jump through.” However, these learning opportunities can open students up to a variety of important perspectives and skills.

“Engaging different ways of knowing the world stretches us, opens us to inspiration, teaches us humility and patience, fosters gratitude and has the power to bind us closer to each other and to God’s marvelous creations, but only if we let it,” Oscarson said.

Citing Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Oscarson emphasized how learning is linked with sanctification. If students keep this eternal message in mind, education becomes even more valuable.

“The very act of learning with all the discipline, sacrifice and focus it requires, can have a sanctifying effect on us when, and this is critical, when we do it with an eye to the glory of God and the service of others — precisely what you should expect from a BYU education,” he said.

BYU’s mission statement refers to this process of gaining an education as an individual’s “quest for perfection and eternal life.” Oscarson referenced this and explained that the focus of BYU’s mission is not what a student is now, but the process of what a student can become.

He added that a formal education is not necessary in completing this quest, and righteous men and women still have the capacity to learn and fulfill their eternal goals in other ways.

“Even if we don’t have the opportunity for formal education, the Lord expects us nonetheless to be lifelong learners because of how learning changes us,” Oscarson said.

Oscarson warned against viewing a university education simply as a commodity and a return on investment to the individual. He taught that a transformative education is much more — including “improvement in character,” “moral refinement” and “service in the community.”

“What you get from your education at BYU and how it will change you into a more dedicated disciple depends on you,” he said.

Oscarson referenced the scriptures and described how individuals are counseled to be transformed by their education: individuals are “admonished repeatedly to seek earnestly and honestly for truth,” they are required to foster humility and make sacrifices, yield patience and “make the Holy Ghost a constant companion.”

Approaching education with these goals in mind, according to Oscarson, will allow BYU students to be blessed with the ability to discern truth, power of resilience and capacity to serve others in both the workforce and the Kingdom of God.

He concluded with the unconventional story of how his mother, Bonnie L. Oscarson, went about her university education. She put her degree at BYU on hold when her husband’s job offer took them to St. Louis. She then went on to have seven children in total and moved with her husband to Sweden after being called as mission leaders, knowing no Swedish at all.

She learned the language to communicate with those she ministered to, with a strong commitment to serve the people in her calling. After returning from Sweden and spending years raising children and teaching early-morning seminary, she was reminded of her patriarchal blessing that said she should finish her college degree.

Decades later, Bonnie L. Oscarson returned to BYU and completed her degree in English literature. She took all the required classes, including fulfilling the Languages of Learning GE requirement by taking Swedish literature — taught by Chip Oscarson. Bonnie L. Oscarson graduated in 2010, 42 years after beginning her degree.

Her new expertise in reading, analyzing and writing became significantly helpful when she was called as the 14th Young Women’s general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We rarely know how and where the Lord will use us and the experiences and education with which he has blessed us,” Chip Oscarson said.

He concluded with his testimony and an encouraging message to BYU students.

“Let your education change you, refine you, and make you a better, more committed disciple of Christ,” Chip Oscarson said. “He desires to transform us all. Transformation and repentance is at the heart of the atonement because he knows how and to make you into more than you could ever possibly make of yourself.”

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