Mormons have figured out one way to really penetrate and engage the culture from their decidedly counter cultural perspective. A recent piece in the New York Times tells how a Brigham Young University computer-animation program is earning respect and professional positions in Hollywood studios.

Out of nowhere, B.Y.U. — a Mormon university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has become a farm team for the country’s top animation studios and effects companies. Unlikely as it sounds, young Mormons are being sucked out of the middle of Utah and into the very centers of American pop-culture manufacturing.

Praising the program in a speech on campus in 2008, the president of Pixar, Edwin Catmull, noted: “It’s the perception not just of Pixar, but also at the other studios, that something pretty remarkable is happening here.”

And it isn’t just teaching students skills, it is teaching them a vision that their work will matter, that one day they will become culture shapers:

I kept being reminded that B.Y.U.’s program was only 13 years old: most of the moral emissaries that it has been pouring into the industry are still climbing to the positions from which they’ll be able to truly influence a film’s tone and content. One day, there will be alumni directing and producing, students insisted — it’s an inevitability. “Right now we’re the workhorses,” an alumnus at DreamWorks told me. “But I think our future is bright in terms of being able to shape the industry.”

As important as politics and elections and government policy are, and they are critically important, the future of America belongs to those who shape the worldview and plausibility structures of its citizens. Conservative Christian and Catholic institutions of higher education, and non-sectarian conservative ones like Hillsdale and Grove City need to learn something from our Mormon friends here: professional excellence will open doors that ideology cannot keep shut.

As the piece shows, it also takes money for such a program to prosper. So of all those millions of dollars that go to politics and think tanks on the right, some needs to make its way to programs that encourage cultural engagement, inside and outside of Academia. Otherwise those dollars will swim against a cultural tide that renders their effect for limited government, liberty and personal responsibility moot.