News » Whistler

Quest University embarks on its third year

President Helfand confident inaugural class will graduate in 2011



As the joke goes: there is a university student, and then there is a Quest student.

Caleb Tomlinson said he took one year of undergraduate classes at Thompson Rivers University before deciding to leave behind traditional post-secondary school and transfer to the two-year-old Quest University Canada in Squamish.

"I liked the idea of being able to have a flexible program," explained Tomlinson, who is one of 58 third-year students who make up Quest's inaugural class.

"I was looking at other international development programs and they were all very rigid. They all had required courses the whole way through. I like the idea of being able to choose exactly what type of courses I want to take."

This fall, Canada's first private, liberal arts and science university will see its first batch of third-year students develop their self-directed major or "question." Over the next two years, these students will examine their topic from different angles and eventually present their findings in a public forum.

Tomlinson said he doesn't mind being part of such a high-scale education experiment.

"It definitely has made me more aware," said Tomlinson, who is originally from Merritt, B.C.

"I am certainly not fully aware of the higher education system, but it has made me more aware than I would have been at Thompson Rivers University."

Likewise, Adrienne Dalla-Longa, also in her third year, said she enjoys being part of something new.

When she walks down the university halls, she sees pictures of clubs where she was at their first meeting, and she also got to help write the student council's constitution.

"You can't be at Quest if you aren't open to the idea of change," said Dalla-Longa.

"You are at a new university and things have to change and have to be adaptable. We don't have the same kind of history as other places. That was something I was not comfortable with when I first came here. Now, it is something I fully embrace."

Although it hasn't been around long, Quest has hit a few rocky patches.

One month after the university opened in September 2007 its founder, David Strangway, stepped down as president. Strangway, who is also the former president at the University of British Columbia, temporarily sat on Quest's board of directors before retiring to Kelowna, B.C.

The following year, in August 2008, the university announced it was forming an alliance with the education group CIBT that owns Sprott-Shaw Community College. Through the deal, CIBT would manage Quest's administration and financial functions and the Squamish university would share Sprott-Shaw's president, Dean Duperron. The deal fell through within a month.