The project “If Any of You Lack Wisdom” explores the faith-based challenges that young adults experience
After discovering that advertising professor Jeff Sheets had been contemplating similar ideas, the two initiated a collaborative project in September 2019 that would include faculty representatives from three of the school’s sequences — advertising, public relations and journalism — with public relations professors Chris Wilson and Pamela Brubaker joining the project. But the efforts would soon extend to communications students as well.
“After a few meetings with just the faculty, we decided to bring in students,” Boyle said. “We each identified students we thought would be interested in the project, who were self-driven, dependable and able to work on a team.”
Students from each sequence then joined the collaboration, and the group began considering exactly how the project would look.
“The great thing about this project is that the focus and structure came from students, not faculty,” Boyle said. “We met for several weeks with the students and brainstormed ideas. The students also went out and conducted focus groups with their peers to better understand what kind of project would resonate best with them.”
The students discovered a consistent theme: young adults have questions — sometimes very serious and significant ones — that they need answered. But just like Joseph Smith, we live in a time that can be very confusing. With the amount of information available through the internet, social media and other competing voices, it can be difficult to know where to go to find answers to questions.
In addition, young adults sometimes struggle with both recognizing when they are receiving answers and how to deal with those answers when they may not be what they wanted or expected.
These responses became the genesis of the project that students then proposed: interview young adults by asking them three main questions: 1) What questions do they struggle to find the answers to? 2) Where do they go to get their answers? and 3) How do they know when they get an answer?
To tie this project to the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the four professor mentors traveled with teams of students to several Church history locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Nebraska. Students then conducted video interviews with as many young adults as possible for use as articles, video vignettes and other formats.
In addition, two advertising students were sent to New York City to do street interviews and two students traveling abroad during the Winter 2020 semester also did interviews with young adults in London to provide an international perspective.
“One of the questions that we hadn’t planned to ask when we first started doing interviews was something to the effect of, ‘How do your experiences in searching for answers help you relate to Joseph Smith?’” Boyle said. “This proved to be the best question we could ask because we got some amazing answers. This also provided those we talked to an opportunity to really think about what Joseph Smith and the First Vision means to them. It was remarkable.”
Across the trips, students interviewed more than 30 young adults about the journey they take to find answers to their questions. Now, the students are working to get content published leading up to and following the Church’s April 2020 General Conference as part of the unfolding project “If Any of You Lack Wisdom,” the title of which comes from James 1:5 — the verse that led to Joseph Smith’s experience in the spring of 1820.
Students and faculty hope that as they continue to roll out content, they will help get the message across that young adults — and all others — can find answers to sincere questions that they have, just like Joseph Smith did.
In total, 13 students have assisted the four faculty mentors on the project. Boyle emphasized that working with capable, dedicated students has made this collaboration an especially memorable experience.
“We have an amazing crop of students within the school — we’re very fortunate that way,” he said. “The challenge wasn’t as much finding students to participate as it was having to limit it in some aspects. But we couldn’t have a better team of students working on this project. They have taught me so much and I’m fortunate to get to work with them.”
While the main focus of the project was to obtain information and resources to help young adults across the globe as they navigate through their experiences of faith, faculty also saw firsthand how experiential learning helps students expand their abilities.
“Students have seen their skills as interviewers, videographers and writers increase,” Boyle said. “We have journalism and public relations students who had never really shot video before who now know how to frame, shoot and edit good interview pieces. These students have also developed a strong bond with each other in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
Sydnee Gonzalez, a journalism student who has assisted on “If Any of You Lack Wisdom,” echoed what Boyle said regarding the professional benefits.
“This project is drastically different from what I have worked on up to this point in my college career,” Gonzalez said. “It helped open my eyes to the fact that my journalism background can be used to tell stories in a variety of ways; if working for a news media corporation doesn’t work out for me, I have other options.”
Boyle was quick to point out, however, that participation wasn’t just professionally strengthening. The most important element of the project was the spiritual benefit for those who participated.
“It’s been rewarding for me to hear how the students’ experiences as part of this project have strengthened their own testimonies of the gospel, of Joseph Smith and of our Heavenly Father,” Boyle said. “This project is a prime example of everything outlined in the aims of BYU education — spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging, character building and leading to lifelong service and learning.”
For more information about the project, and to read articles and view videos, visit universe.byu.edu/ifanyofyoulackwisdom.