“It is so amazing to meet students and practitioners from around the globe and learn about them and their work,” said one student delegate who attended the 2016 Wheatley International Affair Conference (WIAC) on Religion and World Affairs. Sponsored by the Wheatley Institution at BYU, WIAC gathers students from across the nation for a lively and exciting exchange of ideas. When they register, student delegates select a roundtable focused on a specific subtopic of religion and world affairs. Roundtables are led by leading scholars in the field and their topics this year included religion and development; religion and peacemaking; religious persecution and religious liberty; and religion, gender, and peacebuilding.
Students discussed pre-assigned readings, analyzed their subtopic, and developed relevant policy recommendations or projects for the United States or NGO’s in a series of roundtable discussions. On the final day of the conference students presented their roundtable’s recommendations to their peers at the conference.
“[Our] round table chair offered great ideas and personal experiences,” said one student as he reflected on the unique opportunity WIAC provides student to work closely with an expert in the field. “He also mentored us all along the way by offering ideas or suggestions, but he never tried to take over. He let us plan and think for ourselves, but was a continual resource and always willing to help.”
Another student mentioned that their roundtable chair “frequently challenged us to consider the answers to potential problems we might face, and used his knowledge of existing programs, NGOs, and other resources to fill in our understanding of how situations similar to the one we chose to focus on are managed in the real world.”
The real world—that is the thrust of WIAC. The conference is intended to create a real-to-life experience for students by helping them analyze a topic academically and then try to apply the best ideas and practices through projects or policy recommendations. As a result, students gain extraordinary insights and skills. One student summed it up when asked what the best part of WIAC was. “Everything,” she said, “One of the best conferences I have ever been to.”