Q&A with Board Chair, Mary Jo Larson

The structure of Quest University Canada, including the role of the Board of Governors, was established by the Sea to Sky University Act on May 29, 2002. The Board is made up of volunteer members, who support the purpose and mission of the University. Members are elected for a five-year term in accordance with the bylaws of the University and may serve two consecutive terms. Typically Board members are accomplished individuals from the professional world or higher education, who share their expertise in the governance of the university.

According to the Sea to Sky University Act, “the powers and duties of the university are vested in the board, including but not limited to the management, administration and control of the property, revenue, business affairs and academic governance of the university”. What this passage means is that the Board sets the major administrative, financial, and academic policies for the University. The Board consults the Executive team and the Academic Council on policy matters and gives direction to the development of educational and financial plans.

The Board also hears recommendations on employment matters including contract renewals and is informed by regular reports from various university areas, such as Student Life, Admissions, Registrar, Finance, and Development.

 

Profile- Mary Jo Larson,
Chair of the Board of Governors

 

Q: What is your experience in higher education?  Do you have prior experience serving on a board?

I completed my first year of university at Kalamazoo College, an innovative, four-year liberal arts university in Michigan. I absolutely loved it there, but I transferred to be with my future husband, who studied music at the University of Michigan. Even though U of M is a huge university, I chose a smaller, live-in, liberal arts college within the university. The smaller classes were much more engaging and also more demanding. The professors had really different expectations of how the students should be working. I went on to complete my J.D. at the University of Michigan law school, but always had a soft spot in my heart for the four-year, liberal arts, innovative education.

I never served on a college or university board before, but I have been on the board of Forgotten Harvest in the Detroit metro area. It is one of the largest food recovery and distribution networks in the world, delivering over 45 million pounds of food annually. We’re talking semi-trucks full of food rescued from stores, restaurants, and caterers to reduce food waste and ensure that no one goes hungry in the Detroit metro area.

 

Q: What do you feel is special about Quest? Why did you choose to serve on the Quest Board of Governors?

Why Quest? Well for one, we sent our son thousands of miles away from home to go there. We home-schooled our children for educational reasons. Our son, Jordan, in particular thrived with more person-to-person contact and higher demands. Home-schooled kids never lose their excitement about learning. While taking community college classes, Jordan would get so excited about a topic, but then he had to switch to his other classes. He was so excited working on something; he didn’t want to flip. He wanted to run with it.

We looked for four-year liberal arts universities and at the top programs in the U.S. Lots of them had great reputations, but none were really exciting. We decided that maybe our expectations were just too high and we were going to have to settle, but then I read about Quest in a New York Times magazine piece featuring David Helfand. We got really excited. We thought, “This is great. This is what we’ve been looking for.” Quest had innovative, small classes, yes, but even better, one at a time on the block system.

Jordan applied, but we also decided to look into campus during an admit weekend. We had high expectations from online descriptions before that weren’t met by the reality on campus. When we visited Quest, we were blown away. The students were geeked about their classes and what they were working on. Their faces lit up when they talked about class. The other students are a big part of what makes Quest what it is.

Quest was markedly different. We’ve fallen in love with it and I am still blown away by the faculty and staff. I have so much admiration and respect for the tutors, who choose a difficult, intense way of teaching. It is very demanding personally because there’s nowhere to hide. You have to give so much of yourself on the block in these intimate classes.

 

Q: What contribution do you feel you can make to the Board and to Quest? 

To stay involved in this wonderful place even after my son graduated. I don’t know of anything else like Quest. It’s an improbable and wonderful thing that I want to see continue. It’s not often that you see human beings reaching our fullest potential. Quest is so intensive; it is really reaching the pinnacle of human capacity. That’s why I am on the Board. I want to make sure that this unique way of passing on education thrives in the world.

 

Q: What has Quest given back to you?

It’s a lot of hard work and time being on the Board and it’s unpaid. All I get out of it is the feeling that I am keeping something special alive and growing. Convocation and commencement are special moments. I enjoy sitting on the platform looking out on the students, who are excited and scared because their lives are about to change. By the time they get to commencement, they are so changed, so mature. Hearing their keystone presentations makes it all worth it.

I like to meet the parents too. They are so different and interesting. We all took real risks choosing Quest. We passed on schools with established reputations and degrees because we believed that our children would grow as individuals here more than in any other way we knew. The parents are quite interesting people and, like the students, brave souls themselves.

For more information on the Board of Governors please go to:
https://questu.ca/about/board-of-governors/