It was a year of discovery, says Peter Englert as he leans back in his chair at his office that boasts vast views down across Squamish and up Howe Sound.
“It was a year of great discovery and learning about what I knew – theoretically knew – when it came to how advanced, how really innovative, Quest University Canada is,” the president and vice-chancellor of Quest reiterates.
“I learnt how well our students learn and what they take out of the university and take with them when they leave us. This only confirmed my excitement that I had really wanted to have this job. With actual evidence, my decision to join Quest manifests.”
In August 2015, the German native stepped into the shoes of David Helfand, the then president of Canada’s first independent university. Englert took the helm as Quest rounded the corner on its 10th birthday.
With a decade of establishing itself as a progressive higher-learning institution, Englert’s focus is firmly concreted on Quest’s future. Sustainability is his top priority and with that comes growth.
“Basically at this point in time we are maxed out with respect to almost everything space wise. We will have to have additions to our built environment. We certainly need to plan for it now and move on it relatively soon.”
Additional academic space is on Quest’s radar, as well as more dormitories, Englert says. Quest’s reputation as an innovative institution, in which students learn in a single block coarse system, has attracted pupils from around the world to Squamish. The non-profit liberal arts and science university’s number has jumped from 74 students when it opened its doors in 2007 to approximately 800 students this school year.
The single block system has proven successful, Englert says. The structure was created by former University of British Columbia president David Strangway. Students at Quest attend small classes in a single subject that will run for three-and-a-half weeks, before moving on to the next subject.
Each student at the university picks a formal query that drives their final year. The beauty of the structure is its flexibility, Englert explains. The interdisciplinary approach hands students the opportunity to create their own major.
“If a student wants to do this keystone project (the formal query) in something that combines physics and life sciences and social sciences, in which a major doesn’t exist and is not defined or has accredited approval, we can do that here,” he says.
While Quest’s student body increases, so too does growth in Squamish. Having stood alone on a hill for the good part of a decade, the university is seeing the neighbourhood around its campus rise up. Around 150 new homes are in the works for the land below it and sold signs are being hammered into lots at a rapid pace above Quest.
“From being isolated, we now have neighbours,” Englert says, noting it’s a welcome change. “We will eventually be embedded into a community of 700 to 800 homes with families and that is only a small part of growth in Squamish. In the end the growth around us will make us, by default, a part of Squamish.”
Quest is expanding into the community in academic ways as well. The university is working with the Sea to Sky School District to establish a program to assist teachers with B.C.’s new project-based learning curriculum. The university is also in contact with UBC regarding collaboration opportunities with UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre. The centre plans to create a research facility in the Newport Beach oceanfront development.
Although it’s sometimes a daunting task to sit in the university’s big seat, Englert beams with pride when talking about Quest’s success. Its students are engaged, he says. They work hard and learn how to put issues and subjects into context.
With the students excelling, Englert says his job is to focus on the bigger picture.
“I, personally, right now am completely dedicated to making this university tick.”