To poet Carl Sandburg, this Midwestern metropolis was the "city of the big shoulders," but from another perspective it could be considered the city of the academic mind.

It is exaggerating - but not a great deal - to say that Chicago and its satellite suburbs have an institution of higher learning on nearly every street corner.Along the Lake Michigan shoreline alone, for example, one finds (going from south to north) the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Chicago Medical School and the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Elsewhere in the city are DePaul University and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

These are only a few of what B. Kendall Jensen estimates to be 75 colleges, universities and trade schools within the area administered by him and his fellow Church Educational System coordinators, William H. Goodman and Lee L. Donaldson.

That area stretches roughly from Wisconsin on the north to the corner of Indiana on the south and extends west from the Lake Michigan shore to De Kalb and Rockford. Within this eight-stake "Chicagoland" area are some 23,000 Church members and among them, 891 enrollees in Church institute of religion courses, according to Ann Castleton, multi-stake director of public affairs.

Keeping track of and serving the young single adults who need the blessings of institute at this critical time in their lives is a constant challenge, say coordinators, instructors and local Church leaders.

Consider for a moment this contrast.

In the West, one is apt to find sprawling college or university campuses, each with a rather expansive and comfortable Church institute of religion facility adjacent to it.

Not so in Chicago. Campuses are likely to be in an urban setting, intersected by city streets, with some departments or facilities flung here and there around the metropolis. There are no LDS institute buildings as gathering places; classes are held in Church meetinghouses or occasionally, when a Latter-day Saint Student Association chapter can get on-campus recognition, in classrooms, such as at Northwestern.

A given school is apt to have only a few LDS students enrolled, who must combine for institute classes and activities with students from other institutions to have a meaningful experience. And some in the 18-30 age group don't attend college at all, but work at jobs. They are also invited to attend institute. Whether students or not, some are apt to drift away from Church activity unless closely shepherded during this crucial age span.

"It's like having sand run through your fingers," said Brother Jensen, who supervises institutes in the Wilmette and Chicago stakes. "We rely heavily on the priesthood leaders in each ward and branch to supply us with a list of Young Single Adult and college-age members. Frankly, some units don't respond to that request as well as others. We know the young people are out there, but the wards are so caught up in their necessary duties that going through their membership lists for potential institute students is a real challenge. We do what we can."

That includes networking with students who are already enrolled, asking them if they know anyone else who might be a candidate for enrollment or any other LDS students who attend their school.

"We try to establish relationships with the chaplains at the universities, so that if they supply their students with religious preference cards and those are turned in, they can, in turn, provide us with the information," Brother Jensen said.

If all other methods fail, he said, the coordinators must hope for contacts from the students themselves, their parents or their priesthood leaders, especially when a student is moving away from home to come to Chicago to go to school.

"Generally speaking, success comes when you have a class going and the students reach out and invite their friends to come to class," Brother Jensen noted. "Or we will find out about a student here in town who is going to school and is not active in the Church at all. I will call that student or one of the institute students calls him, he comes to class, and thus gets involved with the Church again. A couple of years ago, we contacted a student that way who was attending the Art Institute of Chicago. He had been less-active most of his life but got involved, went to the temple and then went on a mission. That's just a typical success story; we probably have two or three like that a year."

And there is the occasional young man or woman for whom institute is the very first contact with the Church. Josh Runhaar, a student attending Joliet Junior College was to be baptized within a few days of the day he spoke with the Church News. The family of Brother Goodman, coordinator for the Valparaiso Indiana, Naperville and Joliet stakes, and Valparaiso stake president had taken Josh under their wing.

"Being new to the faith, I don't know as much as I would like," he said. "I find it helps a lot to be able to study it with kids my own age. I find going to the institute classes fun because I don't know many students where I go to college, and it's nice to see some familiar faces once in a while."

To the north, in the Rockford, Buffalo Grove and Schaumburg stakes, coordinator Lee L. Donaldson works closely with stake Young Single Adult representatives to help young members receive the gospel nourishment institute can provide.

That effort is exemplified in the Buffalo Grove stake, where Nancy Jackson is institute supervisor and her husband, Byron, is first counselor in the stake presidency, serving with Pres. Donaldson, who is second counselor.

Pres. Jackson said a branch for young single adults was established in northern Chicago in 1994, and has been successful, with about 55 temple marriages having occurred in the branch. But he said he is conscious of other young Church members who, for whatever reason, do not attend the branch and are not receiving the blessings experienced there.

It is an awareness that Sister Jackson feels acutely. "It is estimated that there are over 3,300 [LDS] young single adults in the Chicagoland area," she said. "The need to find them and bring them home is overwhelming."

She added that adults cannot do this by themselves, that the outreach must come from the young people. "The concept of institute attendance is new to many members," she lamented. "Parents are not aware that this is expected of young people, just like seminary attendance is for high-school youth."

Sister Jackson said other challenges in gathering the young people together are long distances and conflicting work schedules. "But we are trying to make institute appealing for those who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to attend Church services. This can be a way back. As they attend a religion class once a week, they meet in a casual atmosphere with refreshments. They go out togther often and fellowship one another. The goal, of course, is that the original spark of testimony will be re-ignited."

For students in the south part of Chicagoland, such fellowshipping activities take the form of bowling, ice skating in winter, downtown concerts and shows, swing dances and going out for dinner or ice cream.

In the process, a camaraderie is formed, a camaraderie that was a godsend to Libby Landvatter and Rebecca Hatch, two students at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and members of the Naperville 1st Ward.

"Last year I went to college in Utah, but came home because I ran out of money," Rebecca said. "Until I got involved in institute in the fall, I didn't even realize there are so many young single adults here. The nice thing is we all believe in the same things, and it's really fun to find those people and get together as we do."

"There's just something very unique in the experience of being with people who believe as you do," agreed Libby. "You're trying to find out the same things, and you're all trying to learn about the gospel."

That experience is what the institute leaders hope will one day be more pervasive than it is.

"This is the Lord's program, and whenever He instigates something, you can be sure that Satan will rally his forces in opposition," said Sister Jackson in Buffalo Grove. "We have felt that opposition in many little ways, but it simply makes us more determined to keep at it. We will find these brothers and sisters who have wandered away and invite them yet again."