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BYU faculty educate and inspire at Women’s Conference

Nearly 15,000 women descended on BYU campus last Thursday and Friday for the annual BYU Women's Conference. While many in the Continuing Education department and throughout campus were instrumental in the success of this event, some BYU professors also took the time to share inspiring stories of faith and devotion, often from their own area of research. 

In case you missed the conference, the keynote addresses along with other sessions will be broadcast on BYUtv throughout the summer. But keep reading for a brief summary of several sessions presented by our own faculty members. 

Kevin Worthen, BYU president
Thursday Morning Opening Session

Speaking during the Thursday Morning Opening Session of Women’s Conference, President Worthen briefly spoke about how those attending the sessions were helping to fulfill the mission of BYU.

Attendees are welcomed to campus for two days of inspiring and insightful talks, he said. Those women then take home what they learn and teach their families, congregations and communities. Through the Women’s Conference attendees, BYU is again furthering its mission to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.”

Darin Oviatt, associate dean, BYU Continuing Education
Financial Preparation before Bereavement

Darin Oviatt urged his audience to get their finances in order sooner rather than later to prepare for their death, or the death of a loved one.

“Careful planning and communication will provide comfort and allow greater possibility for eternal perspective in our mourning rather than the challenge of dealing with worldly concerns that will have to be addressed,” he said.

David C. Dollahite, professor of family life
A Union Not Merely between Husband and Wife but a Partnership with God

Marital rough patches shouldn’t be a surprise or a cause for despair, according to David C. Dollahite, BYU professor of family life.

“Each couple comes to a marriage with a different ‘script’ based on their families of origin—usually people have very different perspectives,” he said. “Experience shows that helping people get on the same page is one of the most important things you can do. Couples need to talk about expectations in order to become unified.” 

Rickelle Richards, associate professor of nutritional science
Coping with Stress through Good Nutrition and Sleep Habits

Researchers have suggested that the sight or smell of high fat, high sugar foods may contribute to individuals’ desire to consume these foods (although more research is needed to determine this relationship). To navigate these tempting items and instill healthy eating habits, Richards suggested three guiding principles: balance, variety and moderation.

“Don’t eliminate any food groups, eat different kinds of foods within each group and don’t eat too much of any one food group,” she said.  

J.B. Haws, assistant professor of Church History and Doctrine
“I Would Command You to Seek This Jesus" (Ether 12:41)

After a trip to Hawaii, J.B. Haws’ sister told him, “It's better than I could have imagined.” In his Women’s Conference address, Haws makes the case that the witness of Joseph Smith can give us the same feeling about the Lord's saving work. Joseph's accounts, especially in the Doctrine and Covenants, help us understand more about the breadth and depth of the atonement, said Haws. Quoting from Joseph’s writings and speeches, including the 1832 account of the First Vision and an address he gave on April 16, 1843, Haws helps answer the question, what do we understand because of Joseph Smith? That we are "just men and women who are made perfect through Jesus" (D&C 76:69). 

Melissa Heath, associate professor of counseling and special education
The Holy Ghost: The Means to Learning of God’s Grace

When searching for answers, Melissa Heath advises that it is important to never cease to learn and also to consider the source of the information. “For big questions, it’s probably either Satan or the Holy Ghost,” she said. Then, keep the memory of what we hear from the Holy Ghost, which can teach us that we are not alone. 

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, professor of Church History and Doctrine
The Holy Ghost: The Means to Learning of God’s Grace

Professor Holzapfel was a mission president in Birmingham, Al, during the 2010 presidential election. The corresponding interest in Mormons, allowed Holzapfel and his missionaries the opportunity to share the gospel with those of other denominations. During this time he was able to see how the Lord directed those who honestly sought to do His will. Writing down impressions was key to receiving that direction.

“As we keep a study journal we show that these things are important to us and the Lord will give us more knowledge,” said Holzapfel. “As you start recording the impressions, you will start to understand how the Lord speaks to you. We can learn how to be righteous in the dark.”

Mary Anne Prater, dean of the College of Education
Caring for Loved Ones with Disabilities: “You Are Heaven Sent”

Mary Anne Prater shared four tips for caring for loved ones with disabilities: 

  1. Talk to others who share values and share similar struggles. Online resources, such as LDS.org/topics/disability, can be helpful.
  2. Counsel frequently with the Lord through prayer and scripture study.
  3. Seek an eternal perspective. Disability is temporary, not eternal. This time is short.
  4. Don't neglect yourself. Seek help of others to give yourself a break.

She then showed a short video called Special Challenges, which was created by Professor Katie Steed in the Special Education Department at BYU. Source: ldsability.org

Donna Freeborn Perucca, director of FNP program
Caring for Loved Ones with Disabilities: “You Are Heaven Sent”

Speaking from both her professional experience as a family nurse, midwife and researcher of families adapting to a member with disability and her personal experience as a single mom raising four kids, three with disabilities, Donna Freeborn Perucca addressed the spiritual aspects of these challenges.

Perucca has worked with a multidisciplinary group of educators at BYU who have studied families with members who have disabilities. The research found that those who are able to have an eternal perspective and are able to make it a spiritual experience have better marriages, have better conflict resolution skills and better coping mechanisms, and are able to handle their difficulty better.

She then showed a short video produced for World Down Syndrome Day, called Dear Future Mom

Lisa Leavitt, associate clinical professor, BYU Counseling and Career Center
Putting on the Armor of Righteousness: Learning from Mistakes and Sins

In the study of psychology, the current research separates two terms often overlapped: guilt and shame. The differences, says Lisa Leavitt, is that guilt leads to remorse and correcting the wrong while shame is an unhealthy form of guilt.

When experiencing shame we often tell ourselves a story that isn’t true: that our value is in what do and not in who we are. This distinction is at the core of our self worth and often makes us believe that we do not have the right to access the Savior's grace.

The consequences of mistakes, just like sins, can be overcome through the atonement, says Leavitt.

“We tend to be our own harshest critics,” she said. “What does being perfect really mean? The essential part of the atonement is the gift of hope. This hope can be life sustaining and help us learn from our mistakes.”


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BYU professors were among those who shared inspiring stories of faith and devotion, often from their own area of research.

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Nearly 15,000 attended this year's Women's Conference.

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President Kevin Worthen speaks at the Marriott Center during BYU Women's Conference.
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