Conversations with Volunteer Interns
Now that Quest has entered its second decade, the University has begun its second Institutional Planning cycle (IP), an ongoing process set to take place over the next five years. The IP seeks to evaluate Quest’s current internal and external status, and establish institutional goals. The process began with the update of the University’s Mission, Vision, and Values statement in the spring of 2017, and was followed by a series of events in the fall aimed at gathering feedback about Quest’s next decade from students, alumni, faculty, staff, and other interested parties – events otherwise known as Destination Quest.
Quest’s IP cycle consists of four phases: Prepare, Plan, Do, and Review. The University is currently in the the first phase of this cycle – Prepare – which is comprised of three steps: the renewal of the Mission, Vision, and Values Statement, Destination Quest, and an environmental scan to evaluate the University’s internal strengths and weaknesses.
Since December 2017, several students have completed their experiential learning requirements through internships with Quest’s executive team. Students worked on the Prepare phase of the IP by sorting and compiling Destination Quest feedback, charting trends in higher educational institutions, and beginning the creation of a complete history of the land transactions Quest has been involved with over the past ten years.
After Destination Quest, an email from the executive office was sent to the student body looking for people interested in working with the school on the IP. Third year Mohamed Caydarus Mohamed responded to the email as it would “let him get to know what the executive office is up to with the institutional plan”. Third year Johannes Bodendorfer also responded to this email. He had previously expressed to President George Iwama and Special Advisor to the President Marjorie Wonham that “it would be really cool if students could actually be a part of [the IP]”.
Caydarus Mohamed was a part of the group of students working on creating an environmental scan charting trends in higher education across the world. One trend that their research found was an increase in community-university engagement. Based upon the idea that the ultimate purpose of any university is to improve communities, the environmental scan suggested that aspects of experiential learning blocks should be changed so that they “benefit the whole community, rather than being something that is individually beneficial”. While the students on the environmental scan had limited time to present their report to the executive office, Caydarus Mohamed “hopes that this community-university engagement trend will be taken very seriously”.
Johannes Bodendorfer’s internship focused on reconstructing the land transaction history of Quest since 1999.
“There is a lot of data. Ten years of an institution produces a lot of legal and real estate documents, and they are all sort of scattered across campus. No one has an overarching view of what’s there” Bodendorfer said. “This is the first time that the executive is trying to put all of these pieces that were known at one point together and write an extensive report.”
After spending three and a half weeks sifting through Quest’s old files and legal documents, Bodendorfer consolidated this information into a hundred-plus page report he plans to present to the executive team outlining the history of Quest’s land transactions and recommendations for further potential work, which includes creating a digital archive to house this data .
Given the small time scale of Bodendorfer’s project, several other aspects of Quest’s history, including changes in the Board of Governors and administration, and academic council changes, still require extensive research. This information will be used to evaluate Quest’s current status and to inform future decisions made by the University.
“This is going to take a lot more to be [called] complete,” Bodendorfer said. There are currently twenty boxes of documents piled in the executive office that were recently discovered in a forgotten storage room. “It took me a month to sort through this one stack of paper, now there are boxes of papers that they have found,” Bodendorfer said.
Wonham and Executive Administrator Bonny Randall are currently looking for experiential learning students interested in assisting archiving and organizing these files for the IP.
Bodendorfer commented on the trust between students and the executive that can be established when students participate in these kinds of internal institutional operations.
“These kinds of activities are really important to allow the students to be a part of their university,” Bodendorfer said. “It’s been a message loud and clear this year that students want to be a part of the process.”
“The thing is that we live in this space,” Caydarus Mohamed said, pointing to the unique perspective only students of the University can bring to the table when addressing the future.
During the March 12th presentation of the students’ work on the IP, a question was raised from the audience concerning the ethics of Quest hiring students for unpaid “voluntary internships” while still charging them tuition for experiential learning. When asked about this aspect of his time working on the IP, Bodendorfer pointed out that “when I pay Quest I’m not actually paying for the education or the knowledge, I’m paying for the credit. Whether this is a credit for a biology class or an experiential learning block shouldn’t make any difference” he said, “if I was to work for an NGO in Squamish and they didn’t pay me [during experiential learning] I would still pay Quest for the credit”.
Bodendorfer also acknowledged that the situation is complicated by American students who may be restricted in their experiential learning opportunities due to FAFSA regulations. “I think Quest needs to do more to address that situation with the financial aid agencies. If you’re forced to do your experiential learning at Quest and you’re forced to do it without pay it’s a problem. I think the way to address that issue is that Quest needs to do more to talk to those agencies and say ‘look our experiential learning is relevant, you need to acknowledge it’”. Bodendorfer also made a distinction between Quest the educational institution, and Quest the business. “I’m doing work for Quest the business, not the educational institution” he said, “if I was working on developing a new curriculum that would benefit me maybe there would be a conflict of interest”.
When asked about his perspective on being unpaid for his work for the University, Caydarus Mohamed stated that “as someone who is an international student I struggle with getting an internship elsewhere” so doing an unpaid internship at Quest for experiential learning was an “easy decision”. “I didn’t really think ‘wow I’m actually paying so that I can help Quest’, and in the end I also learned from this experience and what I learned was very valuable. Do I think I should have been paid for my work? I don’t know. I think that what I gained from that experience was good, but I think that someone else could make the argument that yes, I was working 9-5 so I should have been compensated.”
As of now there are no concrete plans to implement any suggestions made during this phase of the IP cycle. Regardless, Bodendorfer and Caydarus Mohamed are both optimistic that the work they did for the school will be taken into account in future changes made by the administration. “[Our work] will be taken very seriously, I think, when they make their decisions” Caydarus Mohamed said.
Before Quest moves into the Plan phase of the IP cycle there is still an extensive amount of research to be done regarding Quest’s historical and current status. It is likely that students will continue to play a role throughout this process.