Church News and Events

Tempe Institute: A “Lighthouse” for Nation’s Largest University

Contributed By By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 9 May 2014

The campus of Arizona State University has expanded around the Church’s Tempe Arizona Institute of Religion building.  Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Arizona State University student Dustin Tenney has deep roots at the Church’s Tempe Arizona Institute of Religion. Years ago his grandparents met at the institute.

Much has changed in the years since his grandparents were gaining an education; today ASU has 72,000 students.

But one thing has remained constant. The institute is still a “lighthouse” on the campus of what has become the nation’s largest university, he said.

As proof of the Church’s prominence on the ASU campus, a 44,000-square-foot institute building stands on the corner of the McAllister and Terrace roads and directly across the street from the ASU law school.

The building was first constructed at its current location in 1964.

But as ASU expanded and grew, the campus enveloped the Church’s property. Soon the Church began working to replace the original institute building with a larger, more functional building on campus.

President Henry B. Eyring, now First Counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated a new building—with eight classrooms, several study rooms, two chapels, a gym, and instructors’ offices—at the site on September 16, 2007.

That building came about because ASU President Michael Crow invited the Church—as well as other faith-based organizations and religions—to “plant their flags deep in the soil of the university” (“The Institute at Tempe,” Church News, Sept. 22, 2007).

Derrick M. Anderson, a Church member who works in the office of the president at ASU as the adviser for innovation, said President Crow saw the Church as a natural partner to the university.

ASU is not defined “by who we exclude, but who we include,” Brother Anderson said, noting that where “it is possible and appropriate” the university welcomes many communities to campus.

The philosophy has also impacted university policy regarding Church members. For example, during President Crow’s administration, ASU began allowing LDS students to defer scholarships for missionary service. And the university president spoke at the dedication service of the new building in 2007 and again in January at a Church-sponsored young single adult conference held at ASU.

Amy Golden, director of strategic initiatives for educational outreach and student services at ASU, said the Church and the university are good partners because the university aims to provide “communities within communities” so that the nation’s largest university “immediately feels smaller and smaller.”

She appreciates that institute instructors not only encourage students to participate in institute but also open their doors and encourage students to “go beyond the borders of this building into the rest of campus.”

“This isn’t a place to retreat; it is a place to reboot,” she said.

She sits on the ASU Council of Religious Advisers (CORA) with Tempe Arizona Institute director Terry F. Calton.

Council members know they can use the institute building for CORA functions, he said. More important, he said, the council knows they can marshal the power of LDS students for service projects and other events. “They know if our students get involved it is going to be a success,” Brother Calton said.

Steven Wilson said the institute building is a symbol of the university’s partnership with the Church. “The institute is in a pretty great location,” he said. “We are part of the university. We are here. People recognize that.”

He said it is nice to have a presence on campus that is recognized, but that recognition also comes with responsibilities. “This is not just a safe haven here—we are supposed to be involved on campus.”

Bekki Hood said the institute has become, in every way, a community within the larger university community. “They call it a home away from home, and they are exactly right. This is a home to me,” she said.

Jessica Hale Rowse met her husband, Kevin, at the Tempe institute. “This is where my family is,” she said. “I spend as much time here as I can.”

Kevin Rowse said earlier in the year he went on a hike up “A” Mountain with the institute council. There they looked over the entire ASU campus and the city, and he felt like he was exactly where he needed to be. He also wanted to persuade other students—LDS or not—to participate in institute.

Brother Calton said about 100 students who are not LDS enroll in institute classes each year—perhaps because any ASU student who enrolls in and attends an institute class is allowed to park in the Church’s parking structure. As a result, “so many people are finding the gospel here,” he said.

Kevin Shoemaker, another married student, said many people use the building and classes as “an escape from the daily grind” of university life. “It lets me decompress, relax, feel the Spirit, and put things back into perspective,” he said. “The institute is very vital to my college experience.”

Brother Calton said it has been that way since Dustin Tenney’s grandparents were on campus.

Seventeen of the first 33 ASU students were Latter-day Saints, he said. George M. Bateman, the first faculty member with a doctoral degree to be hired at Arizona State Teachers College, was also Mormon; a building on campus bears his name. Another building on campus, the G. Homer Durham Language and Literature Building, is named after this former ASU president and General Authority.

With the new institute building, the Church will have a prominent place in the lives of ASU’s Latter-day Saint community well into the future, he said.

“Great things are happening here,” he said.