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Karl G. Maeser and James E. Talmage mentorship inspired special BYU coin


Justin Kunz, an illustration professor at BYU and medallic artist for the U.S. Mint, has previously designed more than 10 coins for the U.S. Mint as a member of the Artistic Fusion Program. Perhaps his most well-known was the 2017 portrayal of Lady Liberty that commemorated the 225th anniversary of the Mint’s coin production and was later named Best Gold Coin in the Coin of the Year Awards at the World Money Fair in Berlin. Recently, Kunz designed a new commemorative coin for BYU to celebrate the motto Inspiring Learning.

The legacy of inspiring learning at BYU has been passed from mentor to student since the days of its first graduate, James E. Talmage. On the front of the coin are portraits drawn by Kunz of Talmage, Karl G. Maeser, who was a mentor to Talmage, and Brigham Young, who was a mentor to Maeser. Together, the three are symbolic of the mentoring that has taken place as part of the campus since the early days of Brigham Young Academy.

“Embracing the dynamic of the relationship between a teacher mentoring a student is what makes this coin special,” Kunz said.

The reverse side features the original Brigham Young Academy Building, which now serves as the Provo City Library, and the Y Mountain in the background.

Kunz drew upon his experience as a professional illustrator, developing drawings in graphite based on historical photographs of the three men and present-day pictures of the Academy. He then scanned the drawings and used 2D graphics software to edit and arrange the images with typography in a circular format.

“I love the idea of lots of people being able to see my work and enjoy it,” Kunz said. “That’s what I love about illustration, it’s published and reproduced. And that means that you don’t have to be rich to own a piece of art, you don’t even have to go to a museum to see it. You can enjoy it in your living room.”

Jeffrey Keith, a geology professor at BYU, led the charge to create a one-of-a-kind gift that could be given to students, alumni, guests and others. This spring, Keith gave a coin to Collin Jensen, a BYU graduate who had just earned his master’s degree.

BYU Inspiring Learning medallion to support student mentoring

“This commemorative silver medallion honors the dedication of students and faculty working to realize their full potential through mentored learning,” Keith said. “Our founders did the same: direct, personal mentoring from one leader to the next.”

The inspiration behind the coin came from the words of President Worthen at the 2016 Annual University Conference when he coined the phrase “inspiring learning” as a way to summarize the BYU Mission Statement.

“When I use the term ‘inspiring learning,’ I have in mind both meanings of the word inspiring,” Worthen said in his 2016 speech. “I hope we inspire our students to learn. And I hope that learning leads to inspiration. When both things happen, inspiring learning occurs, and we can then know we are on the right track to achieve the core goals set forth in our mission statement.”

The coin, which is made of pure silver, can be purchased at

All proceeds from the coin will go to the James E. Talmage endowment.