Journalism students document blessings of BYU-Pathway program in Ghana


Four journalism students and two professional staff mentors traveled to Ghana from Feb. 16-25 to film a documentary about BYU-Pathway Worldwide.

The group stands in front of the Accra Ghana Temple. Although they spent the majority of their time in Ghana filming, the group still had time to explore the area and take in the scenery. (Melissa Gibbs)

BYU-Pathway came to Ghana 15 years ago. BYU students Sydni Merrill, Derek VanBuskirk, Ethan Porter and Joel Leighton from the School of Communications journalism sequence set out to show its impact in the lives of locals.

They were also assisted by Bella Li who helped with interviews with Church leaders in Salt Lake City.

The documentary premiered to a large crowd in the Alice Louise Reynolds Auditorium on Tuesday, April 16. Attendees learned about the documentary’s creation and had the chance to ask students questions about the filming and editing process.

Melissa Gibbs and Alan Neves, the two professional staff mentors, started the premiere by expressing their gratitude for the individuals at BYU who made the documentary happen and for the students and their hard work.

During the trip, students planned and conducted interviews with Pathway students and local leaders, all while collecting footage of the beautiful Ghanaian scenery.

From left to right: Derek VanBuskirk, Sydni Merrill, Ethan Porter, Joel Leighton. The four documentary producers shared insights about the trip with the crowd after the documentary premiere. (Andrew Osborn)

However, the trip was only one part of the process. The students returned home to Provo and were faced with terabytes of footage to sift through. 

250 hours of hard work later, they had a finished 13-minute documentary entitled “Pathway to Education: Breaking Ground in Ghana.”

COMMS 490R is the capstone class for the journalism sequence. Students typically work on a bigger project that takes them outside of Provo.

Sydni Merrill helped conceptualize the story about BYU-Pathway Worldwide.

“Doing a story like this in America is amazing, but you learn different things when you’re displaced in another country,” she said.

Merrill said the trip helped her to cherish her own education even more. It also taught her about her own aspirations for her future.

“I think this experience was really formative in pointing out a direction for me professionally and where I want to go,” she said.

Ethan Porter, another one of the students on the trip, said the group really wanted to interview Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve for the documentary because he recently spoke on the importance of BYU-Pathway and higher education for women.

The request for an interview was not approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the group was “pretty bummed out,” Porter said.

However, a hiccup in the trip ended up being a blessing in disguise when the group’s visas were delayed for a week. Because of the delay, they happened to be in the country at the same time as Elder Bednar and Elder Patrick Kearon.

Melissa Gibbs, one of the professional staff mentors on the trip, conducted the interview with Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve. Porter said the fact that the interview ended up happening was one of the miracles of the trip. (Sydni Merrill)

By a stroke of divine luck after some hard work, Porter said they were able to spend a few minutes interviewing Elder Bednar while he was waiting to speak to the Ghanaian members in a conference.

“It was just one of those crazy miracles that we were like, ‘God is really blessing us on this documentary,’” Porter said. “It was just one of the coolest experiences to be able to interview an apostle.”

Joel Leighton said it was surreal being on a new continent after seeing it on TV and hearing about it all his life. 

It wasn’t all easy, though: he said lugging around the camera equipment in the heat was one of the hardest parts of the trip.

“You feel the pressure of trying to get the perfect shot and also you’re just drenched in sweat, that was probably the most difficult thing,” Leighton said.

However, Leighton said all the subjects were patient and accommodating with the group as they were being filmed, even if they asked them for a redo as they did another shot.

Derek VanBuskirk didn’t know much about the Pathway program prior to this project. But now he is very convinced about the inspired nature of it, he said.

“I think BYU-Pathway, as was said in the documentary, really is the future. We’re going to see millions of people blessed by BYU-Pathway,” VanBuskirk said.

“Pathway to Education: Breaking Ground in Ghana” can be found on YouTube here.

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