First Class Graduates at SFU Surrey Campus

May 03, 2003, vol. 27, no. 3
By Terry Lavender

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When the 46 members of SFU Surrey's first graduating class started university at what was then the Technical University of British Columbia (TechBC) in September 1999, they had no idea what to expect.

They were the new institution's first students. The teaching model was based on five-week modules rather than traditional semesters. There was a heavy reliance on online content and the program itself - which combined art and design with information technology and business management - was radically different from a typical university syllabus.

There were no older students to show them the ropes; no alumni with prestigious careers or accomplishments to serve as examples. Each year of the four-year program was uncharted territory. And in their third year they faced the distraction of the uncertainty over TechBC's future. Once that uncertainty was resolved - with SFU's assumption of TechBC's programs and students in 2002 - they had to adapt to the culture and rules of a much different - and larger - university.

But that's all behind them now, says Erika Glover, one of the members of that pioneering class. “It's time to get on with our lives.”

Her classmate Ian Buckley, who has already started a full-time job with the Vancouver Board of Trade, agrees.

“With all the challenges we faced during the four years, and especially with the uncertainty in third and fourth year, I just wanted to be done.”

“I think that's one of the reasons why I got a job so fast after completing my degree. I began the job hunt in September, putting the finishing touches on my portfolio and resume, and sending out numerous resumes during my last two semesters. And it worked - the day of my last class I had an offer waiting for me when I got home.”

Glover and Buckley say the group grew very close during the four years. “We were close because the school was so small,” Buckley says. “You were with the same students in most of your classes, and with all the collaborative work, you had to be close.”

One of the challenges they had was explaining to their parents, their friends and their high school teachers just exactly what they were doing and what TechBC was.

“No-one had heard of it,” Glover says. “But once I explained the program, it was better. It was certainly easier to tell people about it once we were part of SFU.”

There were advantages to being the first, they say.

“I liked the idea of us being role models for future students,” says Glover. “You have to start somewhere. We paved the way for the next group of students.”

The main benefit according to Buckley, “was being able to design the school and student life the way you wanted. If you wanted a student society, you could start one. If you wanted a club, you could start one.”

On the other hand, “If you wanted to ask a former student what a class or a prof was like, you couldn't. So that was a bit of a challenge. Every year, we had to somewhat jump in blindly and hope for the best.”

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