In an hour and a half, I will head up the mountain to Quest University's first ever graduation. As you can imagine, we've had a number of events this week to celebrate the completion of our first class of students' studies. Of course, I've only been here for a year; those who've been here four years or more are (visibly) much more affected by the fact that Quest has managed to get to this state.
Yesterday afternoon, the five students whose capstone projects received distinction all gave presentations in front of an audience of a few hundred, including students, faculty, parents, and maybe even a few members of the community. They all did an impressive job, and showed tremendous poise. They also performed very well when receiving questions from the audience, showing a comfort both on stage and with the material they'd studied. The projects varied quite a bit, from a study of human perception from primarily a literary and philosophical point of view, to a study of just war theory and military response to terrorism, to a psychology experiment testing whether environmentalism corresponded to a "world view" under a particular definition, to a survey of wildfire managers about trying to reintroduce what used to be the natural wildfire cycle in BC, to a combined biological and social study of the factors influencing the spread of a particularly nasty virus in Bolivia. Everybody I talked to was quite impressed with what the students did, and I think that the first through third year students were a little scared by the standard that had been set.... (We must remember, however, that these were what we identified as the top five projects out of the 45 or 50 in the graduating class!)
It's pretty exciting to be a part of this experimental University. I'm just happy to be teaching again, but I'm particularly happy to be teaching at a place that really cares about teaching. Quest's mission is focused entirely around teaching. What's more, the students here by and large are great. At Vanderbilt, at least in my large introductory classes, I wouldn't see the whole class except on the day of an exam. Here, if one student is missing one day, I'm surprised, and will often e-mail afterwards to see what's up. Everybody comes to every class, pretty much; that's unheard of at most any other University. (I will say that in my upper division physics electives at Vanderbilt, generally almost everybody was there every day, but certainly not by any means in the introductory classes.)
After today, Quest will for the first time have alumni. I hope it has many more, and I hope that I'm able to stay around for a few decades and participate in this experiment.