The ‘surprising’ activity that helps students feel a sense of connection to BYU

Professors at BYU and Texas A&M recently analyzed 6,000 experiences from nearly 900 students to see what activities increase a student’s sense of connection to the university

Professors at Brigham Young University and Texas A&M University recently set out to see if certain university experiences would lead students to feel greater connection to the university.

Why is a sense of connection so important? It makes for a better overall student experience, said Brian Hill, a BYU professor of experience design and management. Students who feel connected to their university do better, feel better and are more likely to persist through semesters.

Hill and other professors analyzed 6,000 experiences from nearly 900 enrolled students. The No. 1 activity was playing on a college athletic team, a pursuit open to relatively few students.

The activity next on the list, however — which ranked higher than participating in a club or intramurals, cheering as a BYU sports spectator, or connecting with a professor — was “surprising in a good way,” said Hill. The second-most top-ranked activity? Attending weekly campus devotionals.

“There’s something really cool about gathering together as a whole university,” Hill commented in a BYU news release. “We share our belief system, and we know we’re brothers and sisters and I think there’s something really powerful in devotionals.”

Every week at each of the Church’s college campuses, students, faculty and those in the greater campus community are invited to hear messages and counsel from Church leaders, university leaders and other experts, scholars and guests.

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During the winter 2024 semester, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and three General Authority Seventies offered addresses at BYU, in addition to BYU President C. Shane Reese and his wife, Sister Wendy Reese.

An average of 7,000 students and faculty gather in the Marriott Center every Tuesday morning for devotionals, according to the news release. The highest attended devotional so far this year was with Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with over 14,000 attendees.

Devotionals ranked high, Hill said, because “they are high-quality experiences both spiritually and intellectually, and more importantly, because devotionals are a unique part of the BYU experience — faculty, staff and students recognize that these experiences are a part of our institutional identity.”

Patti Freeman, fellow BYU professor and the lead author of the study, agreed that attending devotionals is spiritually uplifting for attendees, but said the study adds some statistical heft to the idea that it also helps students feel a sense of belonging and connection.

“The wonderful thing about devotionals and forums, in comparison to other experiences, is that they are open to all students,” Freeman said. “You don’t have to try out and be part of a team, perform with a group, or register for a class. All you have to do is be willing to set aside an hour each week and attend.”

Hill added that he hopes students will get out and participate in the many activities available to them. “They will be better off for their efforts to engage in these opportunities,” he said.

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