I remember being shocked upon learning that the founder and first President of Quest was former president of the University of British Columbia, David Strangway.
Being the President of UBC for twelve years is only one of Strangway’s many accomplishments. He worked for NASA as the Chief of the Geophysics Branch, and was the head of the geophysics team working on the Apollo mission. He was the eleventh President of the University of Toronto, and subsequently the tenth President of UBC. His twelve years at UBC involved remarkable changes that enabled the university to achieve its world-class status.
In 1997 he decided that he wanted to create a new university, one that would revolutionize undergraduate education. He founded Quest in 2002 as Canada’s first small, secular and independent post-secondary institution. His vision for Quest can be represented by three I’s: International, Integrated, and Intimate.
Strangway had a vision of an international university. Growing up in Africa, he understood the importance of diversity in opening people’s minds. He achieved this at UBC, a school known globally. His vision for Quest was to have 40% of the students be Canadian, and the other 60% from abroad. He also stressed the importance of studying abroad to further expose students to different cultures and world views. Today, Quest’s demographics are roughly
60% Canadian, 30% American, and 10% International students that have come from over 40 countries. Quite diverse for a school of 700 students. In addition, around half of all Quest students study abroad in some shape or form; whether it is a semester at one of Quest’s partner schools, a field course offered by Quest, a language program abroad, or an experiential learning abroad. Quest students have, and actively take, many opportunities to go abroad.
His time at UBC showed Strangway how interrelated subjects are. He told a story of his efforts to find a faculty where a department of environmental sciences could be added. He went to the Faculty of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and each one was eager to accept them. He spoke of the problematic road that post-secondary education is taking: students are learning more and more about less and less. He wanted to provide students a well-rounded education that would give them the necessary skills to tackle the world’s problems. A Liberal Arts and Sciences education (more commonly know as Liberal Arts) seemed to be the perfect fit. Students would gain knowledge on a wide range of subjects and integrate those subjects to a more specific topic. There would be no departments, and learning would be collaborative.
Collaborative learning is most successful in an intimate environment. The schools that Strangway was familiar with (UBC, University of Toronto, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are massive universities. Class sizes range in the hundreds of students, and there is very little interaction between students and teachers, nor among the students themselves. He pondered the ideal size of Quest that would be financially sustainable and still maintain a strong sense of community. He ensured that the architecture capped class sizes at a maximum of 20 students. The many open, communal spaces provide inviting environments for students to gather. Each detail, from table shapes and sizes to specific chairs, was intentional.
Strangway is clearly very passionate and hopeful for Quest. Many students feel uncertain about Quest, as it is a new university that is still building its reputation. It is uplifting to know that the idea behind Quest was devised by such an accomplished, influential individual. It was an honor to hear Dr. Strangway speak, and I hope to see him again the next time he comes up to campus.