Where are they now? An interview with Quest Alumni Eric De Paoli

In this blog series, “Where are they now?”, alumni can reflect on their academic, social and physical journey through Quest’s undergraduate education. We have been asking some Quest alumna to write a few words about Quest, their experience, and where it has taken them. Here are some words from recent graduate Eric De Paoli:

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Who are you?

Ayyoooo! My name is Eric De Paoli, I was a member of the 2015 graduating class.

What attracted you the most to Quest University Canada when deciding which university you would like to attend?

The biggest attractant for me to attend Quest was it’s small size. I attended a high school of 400 students, so, coming to Quest, which at the time was 300 students seemed like a natural and easy progression. That, and, from spending time at Quest on campus tours, speaking with my mentors, and meeting other students, I began to get the sense that everyone at Quest wanted to be there and was taking ownership of their education. Everyone I met at Quest, or even other prospective students had about them this contagious energy and passion to learn and be engaged that was really exciting to be a part of.

What was your Question? 

My question was ‘how does perception shape understanding?’ – quite broad. At the time I chose my question in second year, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to study yet during my concentration years. That said, I ended up focusing on environmental psychology, natural resources, and climate studies. My keystone project was a continuation of this – focussing on the ways that the management of Canadian National parks has changed throughout history from their inception in 1875 to the current day, based upon the societal conditions and views within Canada at the time. A very, very abbreviated conclusion that I came to in my research and that I tried to communicate through my keystone was for national parks to be seen more than just the conservation of beautiful or historic areas throughout Canada. They’re actually more of political tools to further certain agendas – be it nationalism, economic incentives, or geopolitical means. And, at the heart of it all is the question of what commodifying nature signifies and does.

Tell us about some of your favourite moments at Quest 

There are far, far to many moments to recount so it’s difficult to pick just a few! Socially, Quest was incredible – when else in your life will you get to live 5 minutes within all of your friends, or such a diverse, interesting group of people? This isn’t a specific moment – but I’m particularly thankful for how friendly everyone is on campus – you literally cannot walk anywhere without striking up a conversation with someone. All of the events put on by the school are very memorable – Caberet, Questival, attending basketball and soccer games, open mics, ninja-fort gatherings, etc. Hanging out in the climbing gym and having the most bizarre and thought provoking conversations; taking a polar bear plunge in the creek right behind the residences; struggling with one another through classes. Although it’s easy to become overwhelmed by work and the insane amount of extra-curricular activities going on, in hindsight I wished I had gone to more.

Academically the greatest memories I remember are those where I struggled or felt challenged the most. Writing an Essay on Rousseau’s discourse on inequality the 3rd week of cornerstone at 4 in the morning; working into the wee hours of the morning creating a journalistic style magazine for a journalism class – and mostly all of fourth year spent struggling with the other seniors on our various keystone projects. Then of course theres the powder days at Whistler where you were up all night to get the reading done, get a few hours of sleep, throw on your ski gear, go make a couple of runs at Whistler and rush back to Quest and clomp into class still with your ski boots on. Yeah, those days are great too!

What are you doing now? Did Quest play a part in that at all?

Since I graduated in April I have mostly still been living in Squamish! So yes, attending Quest and having lived in Squamish during those 4 years has really solidified my love for this part of the world. I spent the summer in Squamish living with another group of alumni and working part time in order to spend as much time outside as possible. Being able to take advantage of all of the activities that Squamish has to offer and not have the stresses or full schedule of a student is awesome. For the winter I have been working as a dogsled guide near Whistler, but it’s since quieted down after the holidays so I’m currently unemployed (we alumni like to refer to it as ‘funemployement’). I’ve been enjoying the great snow that we’re having this season and using my spare time to explore other academic interests, research graduate programs, and help to support students still at Quest.

What do you think is the benefit of going to a small liberal arts and science university versus a large traditional one?

I could go on and on about this. Liberal arts is great if you are not sure yet of what you want to study – you get to explore so many different avenues of thought and studies and get this exposure to all of these subjects without isolating yourself with picking a major or having to take limiting prerequisites. Doing so also gives you this lens if you will that allows you to approach any topic from so many different views that you might not have held otherwise – it really allows you to tease apart the nuances and intricacies of everything to form a more complete picture. And it’s also just really cool! You get to study basically everything, from neuroscience to music to classical philosophy to economics, and not only learn about these independently of one another but relate them and further your understanding and interest. One class, or block just flows seamlessly into another in a way that it never becomes boring – and because everyone takes the same foundation program, everyone has theoretically the same basis of knowledge and experience to work from.

Imagine a student attending a large traditional university and majoring in ecology, while trying to have a conversation with another student majoring in economics. The ecology student has no conception of supply/demand curves or tax ceilings, and the economics student couldn’t care less about a little seemingly insignificant type of moss that is likely totally essential to an ecosystem. Those conversations don’t work very well because those two students are so engrained with their majors and not exposed to other subjects unless through electives. The great thing about liberal arts and Quest is that the interdisciplinary study is mandatory. I can guarantee all of my friends who studied ecology while at Quest are also well versed in at least basic economic principles and all of my economically-minded friends are also aware of the complexities of ecosystems. It really makes discussing or debating or writing about these topics that much easier and more effective. Nothing in the world acts in isolation of itself, and I think that the liberal arts model of education prepares you best for this.

In terms of attending Quest – because studying liberal arts isn’t limited to Quest – the small community size is the greatest benefit that I experienced. This is reified in so many ways – as I’ve said, mostly everyone is beyond eager to be attending the school and learn and that in itself is contagious. Beyond that, getting to know the tutors, administration, and other school staff really well also contributes to a great campus atmosphere – it’s so easy to go and speak with the registrar for example and sort out a course schedule, or speak with the residence team.

Anything else you would like to add? 

It’s hard to describe fully how attending Quest has affected my life. What sticks out to me most about my experience is the incredible people that have helped to shape it – I was very fortunate to have met a great group of incredibly close friends that helped to support one another during our time at Quest and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be who, or where I am without them. I think most students could agree with this as well.

Beyond your immediate group of friends, the school at large is just full of incredible people. You get to interact with all of these interesting, diverse, excited, eccentric, passionate people on a daily basis and everyone contributes to the school, atmosphere, and classes in their own unique way. By realizing this, your time at Quest can be that much more enriched by taking the time to really get to know everyone. (The fireplace outside of the atrium cafe is the best place for conversations ever).

Because the school is so small, it’s incredibly easy to become involved with things, be it student-government, residence council, or extracurriculars like the adventure club or arts bay or music bay or garden or the gender and sexuality alliance. What’s also cool is that because the school is so new and still evolving, there are so many ways to contribute to the school and shape it in a way that it will be benefited into the future. In my time at Quest I can’t even begin to count the amount of initiatives, groups, or projects that were created that contribute to the school in such a positive way. So, if you’re passionate about something, or see a need for something at Quest – don’t be afraid to pursue it and bring it to the school.

In the words of Quest graduate Dylan Glaser: “shred pow, eat sush”. To expand upon this, it’s easy to become caught up in the incredibly fast, often hectic and stressful pace of the block system – especially in the later years. Make sure to leave some room to enjoy those things that Quest, and Squamish have to offer. Often times, all it takes is a good ski day and a sushi dinner with friends to reignite that fire.

 

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