When student Amanda Grier wondered why muscles grow less sore after repeated workouts – a phenomenon known as the “repeated bout effect” – she had an inkling that it had something to do with the immune system. Her research led to the exciting new discovery that T-cells play a role in infiltrating damaged muscle tissue, and she co-authored a paper that was published in the respected medical journal, Frontiers in Physiology.
While this would be no mean feat for any student, what makes it more remarkable is that Amanda is still an undergraduate at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. And at BYU, whose alumni include former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, she is far from unique. “It’s not rare for our undergraduates to be published,” says Todd Hollingshead, spokesman for the university. “All of our professors teach, and we place a major emphasis on undergraduate mentoring so that our students gain real research experience.”
PUTTING FAITH IN EDUCATION
Established in 1875, BYU is one of the largest private religious universities in the US, with a student population of 32,000. It offers 180 undergraduate degrees, more than 60 master’s degrees and almost 30 doctoral programmes. Situated next to the stunning Wasatch mountain range, its students enjoy a wide range of extracurricular activities. “We have a very active student body,” says Hollingshead. “They enjoy hiking, biking and camping in the mountains.”
BYU is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), which helps reduce tuition costs and informs the university’s honour code. “The code prohibits the use of alcohol or drugs, and the drinking of tea or coffee,” says Hollingshead. “Students pledge to live a virtuous, chaste life and to abide by our grooming standards. The majority of students are Mormons and say they come here for the code. They want to study in an environment where their faith and standards are supported.”
INNOVATE TO EDUCATE
Innovation is at the heart of the university’s ethos. Every year, students on BYU’s Mechanical Engineering degree team up with local, national and international companies to come up with engineering solutions for real-world issues. One such project, with railroad company Union Pacific, has led to the development of Arrowedge technology, which makes freight cars more aerodynamic and cuts down on fuel usage.
The university, whose graduates include violinist Lindsey Stirling and Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer, also excels in the arts, with its Center for Animation picking up Emmy awards yearly, and many graduates securing jobs at Pixar and Disney. The US premiere of the musical The Count of Monte Cristo was held on campus because composer Frank Wildhorn, who had visited BYU to teach masterclasses, was so impressed with the student talent.
Entrepreneurship is a focus, with a number of programmes enabling students to work on their own business ideas. As a result, BYU is ranked seventh out of all US universities for producing “Unicorn companies” – startup businesses that hit the $1 billion mark before going public. While student enrolment is at capacity, the university will continue to grow in scope and innovation to foster research like that of Amanda Grier. It is currently constructing a new engineering building, and recently finished a 265,000 sq ft building for its College of Life Sciences. Collaboration between this and other colleges – BYU has no fewer than 10 on its 560-acre campus – is also supported by a new MRI research facility that came online in 2013.