“When I first heard I was coming to Nauvoo University, I was overjoyed!” said a freshman student who enrolled for the first semester of the Nauvoo Study Program in Nauvoo, Illinois, last fall. “There were to be about 50 students, we would be living in a hotel, and we would make a difference in the world. As I got here, the surprises started coming! I discovered there would be about 15 students. I was okay with not having a big school, but 15 people?” Nauvoo Study Program’s first semester actually had 13 full-time freshman students from eight states. This semester 12 students from seven states have enrolled in classes.
Nauvoo Study Program is the first step toward establishing Nauvoo University, an independent, four-year institution that is not owned, operated, or funded by the LDS Church. Evan Ivie, former director of the BYU Semester-at-Nauvoo Program, is spearheading this effort. Nauvoo Study Program currently offers online courses accredited through BYU and Carl Sandburg College. Classroom discussions, faculty support, and on-campus enrichment courses augment the online classes.
What was the first semester like for this fledgling institution in a small rural town with a population of 1,100 and few job opportunities during the winter?
During the 2009-2010 year, the “campus” for Nauvoo Study Program is the Nauvoo Family Inn and Suites’ two-story, two-bedroom condos. Each of the ten apartments has a kitchen and laundry facility, with instructors and spouses residing in the same building with students. An administrative office and classroom are part of this facility. Additional classes and activities are held in the Events Center across the street from the condos.
What did students say about their temporary campus? “It feels enough like home to not miss home.” “Beds are comfy; good to have a laundry in my own room; study space is quiet; social space is fun.” “The kitchens are cute and little. The actual dorm size is awesome.” “The building needs to be bigger in the future.”
Instructors and Instruction
Faculty members are mostly retired educators who volunteer their time to teach. Dr. Donald Snow and his wife Diane retired from BYU and served family history missions before joining the Nauvoo Study Program. Last semester Brother and Sister Snow taught a family history class together. “I can remember long ago the excitement that came from finding an ancestor’s name in a record,” Diane Snow said. “We witnessed that same response in our class as we helped facilitate successful experiences for the students. We were thrilled to learn that students we had last semester were going to repeat the class this semester and that they had been doing work over the Christmas break and were recruiting other students.”
Besides teaching family history, Diane Snow mentored students with a BYU online Humanities course. She met with them two times a week and “became their coach” by preparing them for exams and editing and revising their papers. Diane “was disappointed when scores were lower than expected and elated when they were good.”
Since this fledgling school has not received accreditation, most classes are online from other institutions. Chris Benedict learned how to manage his time with online courses. “Many of the courses I worked by myself, but a couple of them I worked with other students. It actually made the studying fun because I wasn’t just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher lecture. ” This young “computer geek” recently won the NetWars All Star competition of the US Cyber Challenge in Washington, D.C., by hacking into target computers and defending them from other hacker attacks.
Last semester Richard Wilson integrated music with geography, history, science, English, foreign languages, math, economics, and politics in the American Popular Music class he taught. His three female students “didn’t know where places were in America, let alone in the world, and they had little idea about WWII or any other wars or American or world history.” By the end of the semester, these students had been exposed to maps, the great wars, the impact of economic adversities, various musical styles, and the visual arts.
“Brother Wilson never failed to make me laugh,” said one student. “Music really isn’t my thing. However, the Music 101 classes never ceased to amuse me. Brother Wilson’s gestures and accents were nothing short of hilarious!”
Other students commented about the instruction they received during their first semester. “The teachers cared about us, so we learned more,” one student said. Chris Benedict described how the Freshman Honors Seminar taught by Dr. Clayne Robison “opened my eyes to so much more. It changed the way I think, the way I look at paintings and sculptures, the way I write a paper, and the way I read a book.”
Every Monday in the honors seminar, students submitted anonymous writings which were read aloud and analyzed together. This collaborative activity “had no red pencil marks, no grades, no teacher/student struggles,” Clayne Robison said. “This is not Harvard. This is the come-one-come-all first semester at the little Nauvoo ‘University.’ At present it’s really only a study program which has gathered and is mentoring students who are taking most of their classes online from already accredited universities.” Yet, all of the students improved their writing and thinking. They agreed that “the anonymous writings made Monday one of the best days of the week.”
Besides teaching the honors class, Clayne Robison directed the Nauvoo University Community Choir. Before retiring from BYU, Dr. Robison was known for his professional performances, workshops, recordings, and broadcasts. This past semester, he used his expertise to teach and conduct a 35-member community choir that performed fall and Christmas concerts. The choir also sang “pumpkin carols” at Nauvoo’s annual Halloween event and Christmas carols at the town’s tree-lighting ceremony.
Irene Tukaufu discovered a new way of singing, thanks to Clayne Robison’s weekly choir practices and group voice lessons. “I’ve seen my friends’ voices improve and felt my own voice come from ‘all of me,'” Irene said. “I am grateful for the time and dedicated effort that Mr. Robison gives us-wanting us not to ‘honk’ but sing beautifully.”
Trips and Activities
Last November, students and faculty piled into two vans and headed to Springfield, IL, for a day with Lincoln. They stopped first at the New Salem State Historic Site to tour several restored buildings from Lincoln’s time. “New Salem was kind of like the Mormon pioneers,” said Brittney Olsen. Costumed guides told stories about the people and times and “showed how people made and built things.”
The next stop was Lincoln’s Tomb. The group ate boxed lunches at a nearby park and walked through the cemetery with an informative guide.
“Many took advantage of touching Abe’s nose on the bronze bust, which was promised to surely bring good luck,” Diane Snow said.
The Lincoln Museum was the main attraction of the day. With its interactive displays, theatrical presentations, and special effects, “this museum was different from any other museum I’ve been in,” said Brittney Olsen.
Students next visited the Old State Capital, where their guide customized their tour by pointing out Mormon-Lincoln connections. After they walked to Lincoln’s home, “the kids weren’t sure if they would rather skip the home tour and stop for ice cream, but history won out,” Diane Snow said. “This field study supplemented the American History class, but all the students learned about Lincoln that day.”
Brittney Olsen described two other trips she took with her peers first semester. During the Thanksgiving break, four students visited church history sites in Missouri. As they traveled in 60-degree weather, they listened to Christmas music and shared stories about first dates, worst dates, and Christmas. “It was cool to be with friends my age” and see Independence, Liberty Jail, and Adam-ondi-Ahman. These young adults savored meals in familiar restaurants and “got ice cream at Cold Stone, which we hadn’t had in months.”
Ten students made a down-and-back trip to Chicago. “We went to the Sears Tower, wandered around the streets, went shopping, took pictures, and stayed at Millennium Park until the city lit up. It was great to make the trip with no adults and just us kids,” Brittney said.
Other first-semester activities included service projects and friendly fun. Terry Marler, an administrator, and his wife lived “on campus” with the students, who “visited us all hours of the day and shared stories, events in their lives, sad times, and happy times.” They raked leaves and performed general clean-up at a member’s home, carved pumpkins for Nauvoo’s Pumpkin Walk, and celebrated birthdays. “One day the students decided to have a pillow fight outside on the lawn,” Terry Marler said. “They even dragged me into it as they beat upon me with pillows.”
Students acknowledged personal growth during their first semester in Nauvoo. Chris Benedict “found a place where I didn’t have to try to fit in, where I could realize that it was okay to be myself and not be afraid to do so. Because of this exciting place, I am at least a little bit more ready for my mission, a little bit more ready to meet new people.”
“I gained the most wonderful family,” a female student said. “There aren’t ‘clicks’ here, and if there are, it’s just one big click that everyone is welcome to join. We can change the world, or at least a little part of it, here in little old Nauvoo. It may have to be a little bit at a time, but it will grow as the school grows.”
Another student said, “These last 17 weeks have been an adventure. I never dreamed that after so short a time I would come to love and respect you all.” Still another student said, “We study together, we do school together. We’re together 24/7. Nauvoo is a small place, but we do fun things. We have so much fun. We are the entertainment. Even thought Nauvoo is a small place, so far nothing has gotten old.”
What about spiritual opportunities? “The main reason I came to school in Nauvoo was for the spirit of Nauvoo,” said one student. “And I’m definitely not disappointed.” These young adults walked the streets of Old Nauvoo, toured historic homes, and felt the spirit of Carthage Jail. They “loved living close to the temple” and “taking walks by the temple. This whole place is amazing.”
Brittney Olsen’s favorite first-semester memory was “going to the temple once or twice a week to do temple baptisms. As a child, I played on the temple grounds when my grandparents served a mission in Nauvoo.” Students, not faculty, organized weekly temple trips and daily scripture study. Students also participated in an “awesome” Institute class and Family Home Evenings.
When President Thomas S. Monson made a surprise visit to Nauvoo in October, Terry Marler broke the news to the students, who “immediately went around town looking for the Prophet. They waited outside the Visitor’s Center for an hour until he came out. They came back to campus and couldn’t go into their apartments as they were so excited and wanted to share the moment of meeting the Prophet with us and each other.”
The 13 students who attended the first semester of Nauvoo Study Program gave a “thumbs-up” about their experience. Here are a few of their final comments:
- I loved coming here. I pray for and hope it will continue and prosper for a long time.
- Could be better with a few minor things tweaked a little.
- Changed my life.
- It was worth everything we put into it.
- Everyone is my true friend, including the faculty. They are my family.
- We all had our little struggles here and there. Starting out, it had its problems. But we were able to give our input and help fix them.
- I loved coming here and immersing myself in history.
- It’s a small town. When I went into the shops, people knew me by name.
- I didn’t know it would be so small. But it’s been the most rewarding college experience to learn to live with a small amount of people in a small town.
- It’s been spiritually uplifting.
- I wouldn’t change this experience for the world.
This precursor to Nauvoo University intends to grow, and future students will feel the spirit of Nauvoo as they earn degrees from an accredited institution that adheres to LDS standards and ideals in the Midwestern United States.