Students worldwide have a variety of reasons why they love their gatherings
From New Zealand to New York and from Ghana to Guatemala, students bring a variety of cultures, traditions, and personalities to PathwayConnect. No two gathering locations are the same because of the amazing people who make them up, but there is a universal element among these groups: Students love the gatherings and the opportunity for face-to-face meetings, something that sets PathwayConnect apart from other online education opportunities.Distance learning can be difficult; you can’t just walk into a professor’s office or meet your group at the library. Gatherings help overcome this challenge by bringing regional students together. Elder David A. Bednar said, “This spirit of gathering brings assurance, encouragement, and a sense of purpose greater than self.”
Gatherings are more than just a bunch of students. They are opportunities to become more.
Sense of Unity
One benefit of gatherings — and probably the most popular one — is the social aspect. Still pictures or Skype sessions can be difficult to create friendships through, but PathwayConnect gatherings are a great way to overcome that barrier and make friends. Many students find others in similar situations or from very different backgrounds and make friends that last beyond PathwayConnect, bringing a sense of unity to the sites and to PathwayConnect as a whole.
“I really like the PathwayConnect gathering because everybody is friendly and nice. It’s easy to make friends with the people there.” –Stacey (Pennsylvania, United States)Sister Sue Clark compared being able to gather to creating a tapestry. She said, “Each of us contributes threads of our own gifts and experiences to this tapestry, sometimes unknowingly, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes the gifts we share are known only to the Lord. This tapestry is a living thing that grows in its beauty, strength, texture, color, depth, and design as our contributions are added every day. Our gifts and talents are so different.”
“Connecting with others.” –Brandee (British Columbia, Canada)
At the gatherings, everyone brings their unique gifts and talents together to create something bigger and something beautiful. Students leave with new friends and a knowledge that they’re part of something great.
Learning from Each Other
Many students either love or hate group work, but most PathwayConnect students love the group learning opportunities. It gives people the opportunity to share what they’ve learned, teach others, and continue to learn. While this is possible in online classes, it can be more difficult through Skype or Adobe Connect.
“My favorite part of gathering is being a lead student and learning from my classmates.” –Goshendom (Cape Coast, Ghana)
In gatherings, however, people can break into smaller groups and work more closely with each other. Sister Clark said, “Large or small, gatherings give us access to the spirit which we refer to here on campus as the Spirit of Ricks, a blessing of gathering promised by the Lord.”
Students as far away as Ukraine can feel the Spirit of Ricks as students help each other, creating a comfortable, more conducive learning environment. It becomes easier to ask a neighbor or the lead student for help or to offer help in return.
“My favorite part is when we share our thoughts on the weekly topics and help one another to understand the lessons.” –Kharym (Lima, Peru)
The opportunity to act as a lead student is another form of learning. By teaching fellow students and conducting the discussion, students learn and apply leadership skills and explore their strengths and weaknesses in a friendly, supportive environment. While this is possible online, it can sometimes be difficult to keep attention and student interaction. In-person discussions enable students to interact more personally and look to each other for clarification.
While PathwayConnect is an educational opportunity, it’s no surprise that 98% of students report an “increased testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ” when they complete the program. This comes with improved personal prayer and scripture study.
“We are all striving to become better and to grow closer to the Lord. The support from the missionaries and from our fellow classmates makes it all worth it. The Spirit strengthens us.” –Jim (Idaho, United States)
Diving deeper into the Book of Mormon and exploring its teachings brings a special spirit to the gatherings that may be difficult to obtain during an online discussion. Students are able to bear testimony in a dedicated building of the blessings, counsel, and miracles they have seen or currently see in their lives.
“It is interesting to hear others stories in group discussions about their lives and how they have been strengthened by following gospel principles. Sometimes I notice that the members have similar experiences and by sharing what they did, they help someone else in the group.” –Liseja (California, United States)
For many students, college can be an intimidating opportunity, and they have to put their trust in God. They may seek divine help in managing work, family affairs, callings, and other responsibilities with the added burden of school, and because of PathwayConnect groups, they are able to share their blessings with others and increase their faith.
It’s More Than a Gathering
Even though people have varying cultures, nationalities, and backgrounds, everyone is working toward the same thing: a chance to learn and grow — or create a beautiful tapestry. Students learn the same material as their fellow students across the world, but every person brings a unique perspective to the gatherings that create something larger than the individual.As Elder Bednar said, “You gather together to learn and to prepare for your mortal and eternal opportunities and responsibilities. You gather together to strengthen each other. You gather together to develop appropriate relationships and to create eternal families. You gather together to increase in understanding about the purpose and measure of your creation.”
“It makes me feel like I am in a family, and I really can feel the spirit.” – Leandro (Rome, Italy)
All of this is possible thanks to BYU-Pathway’s partnership with the Church. Because the PathwayConnect program is able to use institute buildings and meeting houses across the world, the program saves money on rent and buildings, a problem other online programs are unable to replicate. This is the foundation of gatherings.In his inaugural address, President Gilbert said, “As online learning continues to expand, we will need to amplify opportunities for local gatherings in centers of strength around the world.”