Join us for an edifying and uplifting experience.

The 20th Annual Education Conference will feature two days of instructive and inspiring presentations from influential speakers on a variety of Gospel topics related to this year’s theme:
By Study And Also By Faith.

This spiritual retreat is organized and hosted by Kathleen Knight and Southern Virginia University. We invite you to join with us this summer in the majestic Shenandoah Valley for a retreat that combines Gospel education and spiritual edification like no other.

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Dates: June 3-4, 2016
Location: Southern Virginia University Campus
Map & Directions
Registration: One Day: $35
Two Days: $50
& Meal Plan:
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Contact: 540-261-8487
See speakers from last year

2016 Presenters


Kristen Oaks

Kristen McMain Oaks has spent much of her life teaching. She earned both a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Utah and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Brigham Young University.

She previously served as an educational consultant in the publishing industry, instructing teachers and supervisors both nationally and internationally. She was also a visiting assistant professor at BYU and served a full-time mission to Japan.

After marrying Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she taught and trained auxiliaries in the Philippines for two years while he served as Area President. She currently serves on the board of trustees of the Deseret International Foundation and the Primary Children’s Hospital and recently authored the book, “A Single Voice.” In addition to her love of teaching, she loves being a wife, mother, and grandmother. She and her husband reside in Utah.


John W. Welch

John W. (“Jack”) Welch is the Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University (BYU). He was the founding director of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and a member of the board of editors for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. He currently serves as the editor of the periodical BYU Studies and is a contributing scholar for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

When he was a young missionary in Germany, Welch discovered many instances of the chiasmus literary form in The Book of Mormon. His findings, published in BYU Studies as “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon” in 1969, and subsequent publications have shaped scholarly inquiry into the linguistic aspects and historical origin of the Book of Mormon. In 2015 Welch became chairman of Book of Mormon Central, a web-based resource for students of the Nephite scripture.

Mendenhall, Bronco

Bronco Mendenhall

Bronco Mendenhall is the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers football team at the University of Virginia. He previously served as head coach of the Brigham Young University football team, where he garnered the second-most wins in school history and led the Cougars to 11 straight bowl invitations and two outright conference championships.

In the past decade, over 60 of Mendenhall’s players have landed NFL contracts including Ezekiel Ansah, the #5 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his tenure at BYU, he won a total of 99 games in 11 years. Even though he has inherited programs with losing seasons multiple times, Mendenhall has never had a losing season while serving as head coach for any institution.

He played safety and served as team captain for the football team at Oregon State University — where he later served as defensive coordinator. He has also coached at institutions including Snow College, Northern Arizona University, Louisiana Tech, and the University of New Mexico.

He and his wife, Holly, have three sons.


Al R. Young

Al R. Young has been a professional artist, author, and craftsman for more than 35 years. At four years of age, a friend gave him a drawing set as a birthday gift. Supposing the gift too advanced for her young son, Al’s mother put it atop his closet for safekeeping. After he twice climbed to the top shelf to retrieve it, she relented. He has been drawing and painting ever since.

In college, Al chose to study writing instead of art, in order to develop his own artistic interests and style. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in journalism (1976), and was later awarded an MA in mass communications (1979). He subsequently studied colonial American history and documentary editing at the University of Virginia (1979).

Al worked in various occupations for 18 years: Freelance writer and editor; part-time faculty member at BYU and Utah Technical College; partner in a consulting firm with contracts in the western United States and the Middle East; senior researcher and advanced product designer, senior engineer, head of corporate communications and documentation. In 1998, he and his wife, Nancy, founded Al Young Studios for their work in fine art and publishing.


Elspeth C. Young

Since graduating Magna Cum Laude from Brigham Young University in 2003, she has worked full time as an Artist of Al Young Studios, and, while a diverse range of commissions has given her experience in various media, she concentrates her painting primarily on religious subjects.

Even though art was the focus of her studies at BYU from the outset, a lecture, in 2002, by Camille Fronk Olson proved pivotal in refining the focus of her career. Professor Olson invited any artists who were present to consider painting the lesser known women of the scriptures. The invitation captivated Elspeth’s interest and she pursued a course of directed studies researching the women of the Bible.

A growing number of her original paintings are owned by the LDS Church as well as private collectors. Many have been featured in LDS Church publications and a sizable number of recent and current projects have been done in association with the Special Projects Department of the Church. She is the recipient of purchase and other awards in juried international and regional art competitions.


Cynthia and J. Jonathan Austin

Cynthia Austin has strong ties to Southern Virginia University, having created and run its theatre program from 1998-2004. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music, an MFA in acting and a PhD in theatre. In addition to teaching at Southern Virginia, she has taught at BYU and at the University of Florida. While living in the Boston area she directed Voices of Zion, a regional choir. The Southern Virginia University Theatre program has produced two of her original plays, and The Edge Ensemble in Keene, N.H. performed a staged reading of her most recent piece. She currently teaches early morning seminary and Sunday school, and serves as her ward’s choir director. Most importantly, she is happily married to Jonathan Austin and the mother of four wonderful children.

J. Jonathan Austin was the first Institute Director at Southern Virginia University. He has also been the Church Education Coordinator in Lexington, Ky., New York City and Boston. He is currently the Area Director for the Southeastern United States. He holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre, an MFA in acting and a PhD in theatre. He has performed widely across the country, including with the Utah Opera and in several concerts with his dear friend D. Fletcher. He is currently serving in the Atlanta GA mission presidency.

Whitney Johnson headshot 2014

Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson was recognized as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers in 2015, and was a finalist for the Top thinkers on Talent at the biennial Thinkers50 ceremony in London. She is best known for her work on driving corporate innovation through personal disruption.

She formerly served as an Institutional Investor-ranked analyst for eight consecutive years, including at Merrill Lynch, and is the former president and co-founder of a boutique investment firm with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen.

Johnson is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work,” one of Inc. Magazines Top 100 Business Books in 2015. She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, a LinkedInfluencer, co-founder of Forty Women over 40 to Watch, and was named one of Fortune’s 55 Women to Follow on Twitter in 2014. She and her husband, and their two children, live in Lexington, Va.


Madison Sowell

Dr. Madison U. Sowell is the provost (chief academic officer) at Southern Virginia University, where he has responsibility for the faculty and curriculum, the library, the registrar’s office, and the travel study programs. He is also the liaison between the University and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Sowell previously served at Brigham Young University as chair of the department of French and Italian, an Alcuin Fellow, a Karl G. Maeser General Education Professor, the Scheuber and Veinz Professor of Humanities and Languages, director of the Honors Program and associate dean of undergraduate education. For three years he lived abroad when he presided over the Italy Milan Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The author, editor, and/or translator of a half-dozen books and over one hundred refereed articles, encyclopedia entries, and book reviews, Sowell has focused his academic research and teaching primarily on the Italian epic tradition from Dante to Tasso. His hobbies include traveling, farming, and collecting antique books and prints. He is married to Dr. Debra H. Sowell, a dance historian and professor of humanities and theatre at Southern Virginia University. They are the parents of two daughters and have three grandchildren.

Hanson, Eric

Eric Hanson

Eric Hanson is an accomplished tenor and an assistant professor of music at Southern Virginia. He has performed all over the world as a vocalist and also worked as a composer, conductor and director.

His career as a tenor soloist includes a performance in Schubert’s “Mass No. 2 in G minor” in Austria, Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” in Costa Rica and numerous pieces in the United States, as well as many others. In addition to vocal performance, Hanson has composed a soundtrack for a feature film and conducted many ensembles. Additionally, he worked as an assistant professor of voice and head of Opera UTEP at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Hanson studied at Brigham Young University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and was named “BYU Singer of the Year,” the school’s highest award for vocal performance. He then proceeded to earn a master’s degree from Florida State University and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. He and his wife, Abby, live in Buena Vista, Va., with their five daughters.


David Fletcher

David Fletcher has performed as a pianist and conducted many musicals in New York, New Jersey and Utah and cabaret performances in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and New York. His original music has been featured in numerous plays and performances. He has composed music for national television on the A&E Network and the History Channel, and many bumpers and promotional spots.

Fletcher studied composition at Brigham Young University with Merrill Bradshaw, David Sargent and Robert Manookin, and conducting with Ralph Laycock and Clayne Robison, and sang in the BYU Oratorio Chorus, conducted by Ronald Staheli. He earned an MFA in Musical Theater Composition from New York University, where he received the Hammerstein Scholarship.

Fletcher is the the organist and choir director in the Manhattan First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints. He was previously the organist for Church Area Conferences held in Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. He organized a sacred concert at Carnegie Hall and conducted The Mormon Oratorio Chorus, made up of LDS members from the tri-state area. His religious and theater works can be heard on seven current CDs.

Friday Schedule

Morning Session, Stoddard Activities Center, 10:00 a.m.- Noon

Conducted by President Reed N. Wilcox

President Reed N. Wilcox Welcome
Hymn #89 “The Lord is My Light”
Opening Prayer
Southern Virginia University
Summer Chorus
Special Selection Written by Robert Stoddard
Directed by Dr. LaRae Carter
Kathleen Knight Theme Introduction
Kristen Oaks “Staying Committed: Faith in Every Footstep”
Closing Prayer

LUNCH, Dining Hall, Noon – 1:00 p.m.

Afternoon Session, Stoddard Activities Center, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Conducted by Provost Madison U. Sowell

Opening Prayer
John W. Welch “Faithful Study and Studious Faith”
David Fletcher Musical Performance Part I
Bronco Mendenhall “The Power of Purpose”
David Fletcher Musical Performance Part II
Closing Prayer

DINNER, Dining Hall, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

MUSICAL, “OLIVER!,” Chandler Hall, 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Robert Stoddard

Saturday Schedule

BREAKFAST, Dining Hall, 7:00 – 8:30 a.m.

Morning Session, Stoddard Activities Center, 9:00 a.m.-Noon

Conducted by Kathleen Knight

Opening Prayer
Eric Hanson Vocal Performance Part I
Whitney Johnson “Come to Your Senses”
Eric Hanson Vocal Performance Part II
Elspeth Young “The way Heaven accelerates our creative endeavors when we approach our dreams with faith and courage”
Closing Prayer

LUNCH, Dining Hall, Noon – 1:00 p.m.

Afternoon Session, Stoddard Activities Center, 1:00 – 4:30 p.m.

Conducted by President Reed N. Wilcox

Opening Prayer
Al R. Young “Asking with real intent: the way inspired questions bless our study and our lives”
Madison Sowell “Lessons Learned ‘Out of the Best Books’ ”
Jonathan, Cynthia and Gracyn Austin Closing Concert
Closing Prayer