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The beginnings of Quest

Four perspectives on Canada’s newest university



Last month, 80 university students drove into Squamish armed with notebooks, pencils, laptop computers, towels, boxes of Kraft dinner, and laundry machine quarters. They rolled into town, like most first year students, with the excitement of leaving home for the first time. They came anxious about meeting their new roommates but eager to make new friends. And while they were determined to earn a four-year degree, they were easily distracted by web wonders like YouTube and Facebook.

What separated this bunch from the rest of students going to university for the first time was that they were also the inaugural class of a brand-new university.

Perched above Squamish, on the shoulders of the Coast Mountains, Quest University Canada opened its doors this fall as the Sea to Sky corridor’s first university. It is a small, private, not-for-profit school where the program mirrors successful liberal arts colleges in the United States. It is also the first university of this kind in Canada.

Former University of British Columbia president David Strangway began dreaming of Quest in the late 1990s. After 50-some years in the university world, Strangway decided there was something missing in Canada’s post-secondary education system and government-funded institutions. He founded Quest, formerly Sea to Sky University, in 2002 when the legislature passed the Sea to Sky University Act. The following year, Quest obtained a 294-acre parcel of land in Squamish on which to build its campus, and in 2006, the school received approval from the British Columbia Degree Quality Assessment Board. The rest is history.

Sort of.

The story of Quest is far from set in stone. It may be off the ground and running, but the next few years will be crucial for this tiny university. If the school is successful, and its students go on to pursue great careers, then Quest may be added to the list of Canada’s leading universities. But it could also disappear into the file of private education-experiments gone wrong.

It is not every day a university is created, and it is not everyday that one is able to peak into its founding years. In an attempt to piece together the story of Quest, Pique Newsmagazine talked to four critical players at the new university: the founder, a professor, a student, and the town’s mayor. Together, their perspectives help describe what is involved in a university’s beginning.

David Strangway on starting a university

“I think we need places in Canada that are different than most of the places in Canada. Not just to be different. But to have places that really focus on undergraduate students. A place that gives them small classes and a strong working relationship with the faculty,” said Quest University’s founder. “Quest is a place that is all about the students. And it is about the faculty members working with the students.”