What 100 years have looked like for BYU Education Week

Patrons first went to Brigham Young University for Leadership Week in January 1922

PROVO, Utah — Beginning as Leadership Week in January 1922, BYU Education Week is now marking its 100th anniversary by continuing to offer presentations and classes that seek to teach, strengthen, lift, motivate and encourage. 

This year’s theme is “100 Years of Instruction and Learning: ‘Of Things Both in Heaven and in the Earth’” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:79). From Aug. 15 to Aug. 19, thousands of participants, 220 presenters, 500 volunteers and hundreds of BYU employees will take part on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. 

Bruce Payne has been associated with the program for 29 years — 24 as the program administrator. 

He believes Education Week is successful because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prioritize learning and knowledge and because many people desire to return to BYU campus or meet family or continue the tradition of attending.

“The beauty of Education Week is you have people who are interested in particular topics, and they go hear from people who are interested in teaching. They voluntarily go to the class because they want to, and they are hearing from people who want to teach it,” Payne said. 

“Bring the Spirit into the class with that dynamic, and it’s a recipe for success for sure.” 

Gary E. Stevenson at BYU Education Week in 2019
Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gives a devotional during BYU Education Week on Aug. 21, 2019, in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. | Rebekah Baker, BYU Photo

A history of Education Week

About 3,000 people attended the first program, from Jan. 23 to Jan. 28 in 1922. The purpose was not only to bring residents of the area to campus and acquaint them with the university, but also to provide spiritual and academic training to leaders in various lines of community and Church leadership. 

Instruction topics included health, music, Scouting, genealogy, social relations, public speaking, homemaking, missionary work and teacher training.

Leadership Week (Education Week) attendees in the 1930s
Patrons at a Leadership Week in the 1930s throng the hallways of the Education Building at Brigham Young University in search of their classes. A schedule for the 11:30 a.m. period is posted on the blackboard. In 1963, the program’s name changed to Education Week. | L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU

In 1926, Leadership Week was carried for the first time on a remote broadcast by KSL. Church President Heber J. Grant spoke to the widespread radio audience from College Hall.

By 1939, the week drew participation from 95 stakes and eight missions. The classes were originally held in the winter so rural residents could more easily attend. 

With the exception of a few years during World War II, Leadership Week continued on an annual basis until 1962. Classes for youth ages 14-18 began in 1958.

In 1963, the name changed to Education Week with a broader scope of academic courses and more of the general public attending. “Whoever wanted to take advantage of this continuing education opportunity started attending,” Payne explained. 

The program was placed under the Division of Continuing Education in the Church Educational System in 1973 and moved to August because of BYU’s new semester calendar.

BYU’s Division of Continuing Education took over responsibility of Education Week in 2008; since then, participants have come from all 50 states and several other countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the classes to go strictly virtual in 2020, and 10,000 people signed up to watch the videos. Payne said organizers are exploring the ways they could make more online offerings available in the future. 

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Feedback from Education Week 

Unlike years ago, Payne said, staff now have the ability to quickly do a video overflow into the classroom next door when a class fills up. The variety in course offerings helps people have more flexibility during the week and choose where to attend hour by hour.

Shuttles, dining, custodial, scheduling, security — a lot goes into making it successful.

“Everyone gears up for this week, and it’s an effort made by hundreds of university employees to help bring this about. I see the willingness to work extra hours to make it the best we can for all the guests,” Payne said.

BYU Education Week in 1979
Attendees on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, during Education Week Aug. 30, 1979. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo

What he finds so satisfying about his position is the feedback after each program. Receiving thousands of comments, he gets a feel for the variety of challenges that people are facing. 

“People are looking to have answers, whether it be parenting or marriage relations or understanding scriptures or doctrines or Church History better. People who are feeling depressed or have anxiety will write in and say how this just changed them,” Payne said, noting that quite often, people will point to even just a particular phrase that changed them.

“Out of the whole week, there are so many opportunities to hear from instructors giving great teaching and counsel,” Payne said. “No matter what your situation is, you can pick out those golden nuggets that can change you.”

Three patrons sit around a computer at Education Week in 1981
Attendees at Education Week in August 1981. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo
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