YEARS 1 & 2


For the first two years, Quest students immerse themselves in our Foundation Program, a unique set of 16 courses that span the liberal arts and sciences. By fostering a multi-disciplinary approach to significant questions (both timeless and contemporary), the Foundation Program provides students with the appropriate intellectual exposure and tools necessary to be an engaged citizen in today’s complex world. The Foundation Program courses are below.


The Cornerstone block is the first course that all students take upon entering Quest. The purpose of Cornerstone is twofold: to introduce students to Quest, and to investigate a significant question through a variety of academic perspectives. This year, the question for Cornerstone is: what is knowledge? By investigating this question, we explore the unexamined principles and assumptions that underpin our views on science and culture. When we classify something as knowledge, we are implicitly appealing to a system of values: what is knowable is worthwhile, if not for its own sake, at least for its utility. For example, we believe that astronomy expands what we know, but astrology does not. But why? To respond that the former is science while the latter is nonsense merely reiterates the view that the one is knowledge and the other not, and so fails as an answer. We make progress on this question by investigating three sub-questions: (i) what assumptions do we have about knowledge; (ii) what is scientific knowledge; (iii) what is knowledge itself? In answering each of these, we are better able to say what knowledge is.


After the Cornerstone block, all students take a required block in Rhetoric. The theme for the Rhetoric block varies according to the individual Tutor, but all sections of this block are designed to give students the opportunity to work intensively on good writing and effective public speaking at the outset of their Quest career. Skills involved include: 1) The ability to respond to texts with attention to their strategies, effects, assumptions, and other aspects of rhetorical situations; 2) Identifying the writer’s craft in a range of genres with attention to purpose, audience, and aesthetics — emphasizing techniques for writing cogent, persuasive, university-level papers; 3) The understanding of and practice in writing and research processes as well as peer review and citation practices; 4) Attending to both cognitive and social dimensions of writing; 5) Increased versatility as a reader and writer in order to analyze diverse contexts for writing and respond to them effectively. Students are also given the opportunity to create and deliver effective presentations in front of their peers. The lessons of both cogent writing and oral presenting will serve students throughout their university career and lives.


Toward the end of their Foundation Program, Quest undergraduates work with their course instructor and a faculty mentor of their choosing to develop a statement of their Question: a proposal for how they will study a topic of special interest to them. The Question guides students’ attention in a sustained and rigorous intellectual inquiry during the final 16 Concentration blocks. During Question block, students reflect on their educational experience and set goals for the coming years. They begin their inquiry into their Question topic, and craft a comprehensive proposal that outlines their future area of study, courses, and touchstone readings. Questions range from the broad to the focused — What is honour? What is beauty? What are the elements of successful habitat restoration? How can we manage infectious disease outbreaks? — and are often framed in terms of several disciplinary approaches, key works and thinkers, or subquestions that will be addressed. By designing their own Questions, students construct an academic program that suits their intellectual interests, allowing them to cross disciplinary boundaries. We expect there to be as many different Questions as there are Quest students.


Democracy and Justice examines the ideas of leading thinkers in the history of political thought and the questions they raise about the design of the political and social order. It considers the ways in which these thinkers have responded to the particular political problems of their day, and how they contribute to a broader conversation about human goods and needs, justice, democracy, and the relationship of the individual to the state.


The aim of this course is to orient the student toward contemporary problems around the world. Themes may include intercultural communications, globalization and development, international relations, and global social issues such as AIDS, poverty, and environmental degradation. It helps students become more conscious of how people can converse across cultures and ethnicities, step outside of their own experiences, and appreciate the positions of citizens from a variety of origins.


This course imparts students with a deeper understanding of economic life and government’s role in it. It introduces students to economics and economic policy-making and explores the fundamental principles of capitalism. The course connects capitalist economic decision-making to both political liberalism and religious and cultural practices. Students learn fundamental economic terms and concepts as they explore the development of modern economies.


Students reflect upon psychological, anthropological, sociological, and geographical issues in human populations. The guiding question for a particular block could be, “What does it mean to be civilized?” In order to explore this question, we consider a range of topics investigated in the social sciences, beginning with definitions of self, culture, and society along with issues of power, rights, and responsibilities.


These courses are centred on texts, where “texts” is understood in the broadest possible sense —anything that is created and can be interpreted as a panoply of symbols (e.g., music, art, architecture, film, literature, philosophy, and history). The broad goals are to familiarise students with strategies for close reading, to help students understand differences between genres, and for students to come to appreciate the value in working through serious texts.


These courses are centred on a specific debate or field of enquiry. The broad goals are to introduce students to scholarship in the humanities and enable them to form arguments that engage with this scholarship. Courses may investigate how people have engaged in conversation about a particular topic, how people have developed different stories or conclusions from the same or similar evidence, and how different lenses or approaches might be applied to understand a single topic.


These courses are centred on specific situated cultural knowledge and practices. The broad goals are to allow students to interpret culture using methods from the arts and humanities and evaluate theories of culture through application to specific themes and settings. Courses may investigate a particular cultural context (e.g., “Fin de Siecle Vienna”), a cultural theme across temporal or geographical locations (e.g., “Passing”), or a specific cultural phenomenon (e.g., “Digital Culture”).


We are increasingly a global community; good world citizens should therefore respect, understand, and be able to work with communities different from their own. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to gain familiarity with a foreign language. All students must take one block in a non-native language at Level 2 or higher. Currently, Quest offers courses in French, Spanish, and Mandarin, and there are opportunities for language immersion programs abroad.


This course introduces students to the workings of different aspects of the Earth system, from the Earth’s core to its outer atmosphere, and emphasizes their inter-relationships and the connections between our planet and our species. Quest’s unparalleled location allows us to use the Coast Mountains, the Squamish River basin, and Howe Sound as natural laboratories. The course relies heavily on field trips, first-hand observations, real geophysical datasets, satellite images, and remote observations of the Earth and other planets. Topics may include the co-evolution of life and the atmosphere, formation of the planetary bodies, plate tectonics and climate, the carbon cycle, and natural resources including water, energy, and materials.


This course introduces students to two of the most powerful intellectual achievements in the physical sciences: thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. Thermodynamics was articulated in the mid- to late 19th century, but still forms the fundamental basis for modern work in chemistry, materials engineering, atmospheric physics, among other fields. Quantum mechanics and quantum chemistry frame our understanding of how observable material properties follow from fundamental first principles. Beyond introducing students to some of the most powerful sets of ideas in the history of science, this course applies these ideas to the frontiers of science today, including nanotechnology, computer science, and developing sustainable sources of energy.


How does evolution happen and how do we know? What and how can we learn about events that happened millions of years ago? How is evolution relevant to climate change, disease transfer, and antibiotic resistance? Students answer these questions and many others by studying the major lines of evidence for evolution, including the fossil record, natural selection, DNA replication and cell division, gene expression, mutation, heredity, and the formation of new species. Emphasis is split between learning core concepts and applying those concepts to real-world examples. Students practice the method, write and communicate science, read and critique literature, and conduct laboratory studies.


The natural world is a complex and captivating place. From the ocean to the alpine, the forest to the field, this course introduces students to the organisms and ecosystems that surround us. While accessing the wide variety of habitats found near Squamish, we explore the causes and consequences of biological diversity, by documenting patterns in the field and linking them to underlying processes. We immerse ourselves in the empirical and theoretical science that strives to make sense of this ecological complexity. Students are challenged to collect and analyze data, and to engage their curiosity and creativity to test hypotheses about natural phenomena across organismal, population, community, and ecosystem scales. We practice the method, write and communicate science, read and critique literature, and conduct studies.


Biology is the study of life, but what is life? What are its origins? How does life persist and perpetuate itself, and what is the future of life? These deceptively simple questions underpin the Life Sciences, and provide us with an opportunity to investigate both historic milestones and cutting edge innovations across all scales of inquiry, from molecules to biomes. To examine how living things work, we consider the key processes of birth, metabolism, reproduction, and death, and the physiological and behavioural mechanisms by which they are achieved. Students practice the scientific method, write and communicate science, read and critique literature, and conduct field and laboratory studies.


More than numbers and symbols, mathematics is an exercise in recognizing and articulating patterns. Students in the mathematics Foundation course engage in a mathematical inquiry that is off the beaten track of the standard math curriculum, one that allows students to develop skills of logical thinking and rigour inside of meaningful and engaging topics. Our unique set of mathematics courses from which students choose include: Mathematical Problem Solving, Spherical Trigonometry, Visual Mathematics, History of Mathematics, Modelling our World with Mathematics, and What is Mathematics?

YEARS 3 & 4


The Concentration Program investigates one theme related to a student’s individual Question, either in a single discipline or across multiple disciplines. Refine your ideas in a Keystone project that reflects your passion, activism, research, and experience.

FOCUS COURSES: The main emphasis of the Focus Courses is depth of understanding, sustained attention, and reflection on a Question of personal importance to the student.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: Experiential learning allows a student to formulate and pursue a question, the answer to which is not available in a classroom setting. This mode of learning emphasizes hands-on experience in a variety of forms.

ELECTIVES: Electives are courses chosen by students to complement their area of concentration or to enable them to pursue other academic and post-graduate interests.

Here are descriptions of several other Questions and Concentration Programs from current and previous Quest students:

Ontario, Canada

How can we ensure effective and responsible health care?

I hope to consider all the aspects involved in ensuring public health and distributing health care to diverse populations. I have always wanted to pursue a career in health care, but it is only recently that I became interested in this broader view of health. In order to appreciate the complexity of the issues involved, I will draw from the fields of health science, anthropology, sociology, ethics, policy and politics, and economics. While fulfilling premedical requirements like Organic Chemistry andBiochemistry, I will also be taking courses such as Anatomy & Physiology, Social Determinants of Health, Ethics, and Public Health Policy. To gain research experience, I will work for a summer at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, at the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention. The laboratory component is in an aging and neurodegeneration lab, while the clinical component will be working on The Louisiana Aging Brain Study.

Alaska, United States

What is the atmospheric relationship between the oceans and mountains?

In exploring the atmospheric relationship between oceans and mountains, I drew from a wide range of disciplines including but not limited to physical sciences, philosophy and education. My Concentration courses included Great Bear Rainforest, Winter Hazards, Exploring the Ecological Self, The Spirit of Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. I also chose Touchstone works on alternative expressions of knowledge, the limits of Western science, the natural philosophy of perception, and meteorological systems. For Experiential Learning blocks I interned with the Juneau Weather Service, worked as a weather forecaster, created an avalanche forecast information-sharing network for Southeast Alaska, and developed and ran my Keystone project, creating and assisting in the teaching of a Quest course called “Exploring the Hydrological Cycle.”

Alberta, Canada

How does sex determine our behaviour?

I focused my Question on sexual behaviour because it is a subset of behaviour that we don’t hear or talk about very often, and yet has a great impact on each of us. Sexuality is mysterious and emotionally charged, and I tried to approach the subject from a more objective stance. I read books on the biology of sexual orientation, the evolution of sexual behaviour, and methods for researching sexual behaviour in humans. I was particularly drawn to the challenges associated with researching sexual behaviour, and decided to research the motivations and implications of casual sex for my Keystone project. To this end, I designed a survey to collect information about student “hookup” experiences, distributed it to about a third of the student community, and analyzed my results through the lens of evolutionary psychology to draw conclusions about human sexual behaviour. In addition to the academic knowledge that I’ve gained through this Question, the social experiences that come with studying sexuality have been both fascinating and rewarding. Some people were excited and curious about the topic, and others were blatantly uncomfortable. Regardless of the type of reaction, I like to think that everyone who has talked to me about my Question has walked away with a new perspective on sex. I hope that discussing sex in an academic setting will promote future healthy conversations about an unnecessarily taboo subject.

Yukon, Canada

What is the relationship between symmetry and beauty?

Finding myself interested in the notion of “beauty” from both an artistic and mathematical point of view, I centered my Question on the concept of symmetry. My Concentration courses focused particularly on the mathematical side of the question, and included the Spirit and Practice of Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, Real Analysis, Object-Oriented Programming, Math and Music, and Asymmetry. My Touchstone works incorporated books on mathematical notions of beauty and symmetry, a work on music theory, and a set of art prints by M.C. Escher. For Experiential Learning, I studied architecture and symmetry as a participant in the Career Discovery Summer Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. My Keystone project was an exploration of hyperbolic geometry and its influence on M.C. Escher’s celebrated “Circle Limit” prints.

Kamuli, Uganda

What are the policy options for the economic development of the third world?

I chose to explore development policy by focusing on the African continent and approached my Question through economics and international relations. During my studies, I developed an interest in the importance of trade and foreign investment in African economies and I’m interested in continuing to investigate the relationship between trade and development. My Concentration courses included Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Development Economics, International Political Economy, Ecological Economics, International Development, and Anthropology. I also studied at a Quest partner institution, Malmo University in Sweden, where I was enrolled in the International Relations program. My Touchstone readings focused on economics and international aid. For Experiential Learning, I interned at the National Budget Office of the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, transcribing and translating portions of the national budget for the public.

British Columbia, Canada

What is paradise?

I have always been interested in the relationship between people and nature. Many of my early classes at Quest focused on the environmental, social, and economic problems growing from a deterioration of this connection. My Question, therefore, focuses on the ideal relationship between people and nature, or paradise. During my studies, my Question led me to the arts. I found that paradise, as an ideal, is often found through artistic expression; it cannot exist in the world we know. I read poetry and prose about the human search for perfection, beauty, and connection with nature. The Romantic Poets (Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Keats), and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina taught me about the universal desire for perfection, for paradise. I also read multiple translations of Genesis and Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost to explore the theological perspective of my subject. I studied landscape paintings and their role in realizing and creating paradise for ourselves. I followed this idea of paradise through the Out of Africa literature class, Communities and Conservation, a painting class in New York, independent studies of art and poetry, an exchange in Berlin, and a class about permaculture. This last class solidified a crucial part of finding paradise for me: working with the land. Following this realization, I did an Experiential Learning block on a small organic farm, where I learned about farm work and experienced the farming lifestyle. I realized that engaging with nature allows us to find a more tangible experience of paradise here and now. Through this intimacy, we are able to express and create paradise more effectively through art. For my Keystone project I explored this connection by studying Monet’s paintings of his beloved gardens at Giverny. Paradise, it seems, grows from an intimate and loving interchange between man and nature — a beauty only captured through art.