singing in the Munich campground - Europe 2010
statue of St. Francis in San Damiano

Graduating from high school, leaving home and living independently for the first time is a critical stage in life’s journey, a time of foundation-building: exploring who we are, how we see the world, what we can contribute and how. It’s a time of questioning and forming opinions, figuring out what matters and why, looking at how the world works and what we’re going to do about it. It’s a time when who we are surrounded by and what we focus on is particularly influential, often shaping how we engage with the world and relate to others.

St. Stephen’s University has created a completely unique context in which to inspire, challenge, prepare and care for young adults during this crucial time in their lives: an intentionally small liberal arts university with a focus on academic, personal and spiritual development.

Proudly Canada’s smallest university, SSU offers unique BA degrees that include two terms of world travel, in which students travel with their whole class in Europe and Asia. With around 20 students in each year group, there are no lecture theatres on SSU’s campus; learning happens around a table with professors who know each and every student. Instead of the inevitable anonymity of large universities, at SSU everyone knows each other, and professors share daily life with students. SSU aims to be a welcoming, affirming community where each person can be who they really are and be accepted and included; within this context students experience transformative learning and growth together. SSU’s degree programs focus on critical thinking, personal development and community engagement, aiming to graduate employable, innovative changemakers.

Spiritual Development

One of our main priorities at SSU is to give students the opportunity to explore and develop their spirituality as part of their educational experience. To us this is a vital element of learning and growth, and is as important to our community as intellectual development. One of our unique strengths is a broad and diverse Christian heritage which has led us to be intentional about including space to explore ways in which spiritual traditions contribute to our search for meaning in today’s world, and we encourage a spirituality that is enriched by difference. We love to tackle deep questions of faith, identity and meaning as an integral part of our liberal arts program. We ask these questions from a position of open-mindedness, and we don’t dish out pat answers – we think the questions are often more helpful, and being over-certain of answers can limit learning and growth. One of the hallmarks of a liberal arts degree is critical thinking – the analysis and evaluation of an issue to form an opinion. At SSU we help students form, question and express their opinions and worldviews, fostering an environment in which we all respect and learn from those with differing opinions and worldviews.

Our doors are wide open to anyone who would like to respectfully join our community, whatever their background or faith perspective, and we highly value that diversity. We don’t require engagement in any religious practices, but there are a variety of optional activities in which students can choose to participate. Our professors are often quite open about their faiths, but their job is to teach students HOW to think, not WHAT to think, and a variety of worldviews are represented in their teaching. We love the beauty that emerges from diversity, and our community is richer for the medley of ideas and opinions that coexist within it.

World Travel

All students at St. Stephen’s University travel the world with their whole class, for credit, spending one term in Asia and another in Europe. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience – our students don’t just study history, language, and international studies in a classroom, they see it in real life, absorbing unique cultures and appreciating diverse people. World travel is important to us because it’s such a powerful tool for personal growth. In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” We agree – especially when travel is accompanied by thoughtful reflection with peers and professors.

Career Preparation

When we are out recruiting new students, we find that the majority of 17 year old students have very little idea of what they want to do when they leave high school, let alone for the rest of their lives, but they are under pressure to decide on a career. We like to offer these students a pathway to finding out more about who they are, what they’re good at, what they want out of life and what they can contribute to the world, while at the same time preparing them for diverse career and job options. We do that in several different ways: firstly, we actually get to know each of our students, and we can customize their education according to their unique needs. Secondly, our broad liberal arts degree keeps their future job options open, rather than limiting their options with a narrow field of study. Employers love our graduates because they are ready for anything – they can think critically, express themselves and work with people who aren’t like them. And finally, we offer career counseling, personality testing, interview preparation and work placement opportunities during our program.

Community Living

Sharing daily life together is at the heart of the SSU experience. Our main building is Park Hall, a 19th century mansion that houses our offices, classrooms, residence, kitchen & dining room. It’s the hub of community life, and since the university began in 1976 it has provided the vital context for creating the accepting, caring environment that undergirds our pedagogy. Almost all of our graduates say that SSU’s community life is what they miss most when they leave here.

Our Mission Statement

The Mission of SSU is to prepare people, through academic and personal development, for a life of justice, beauty, and compassion, enabling a humble, creative engagement with their world.

Our Values

SSU’s core values can be summarised under the university’s tagline: Be Yourself, Journey Together, Expand Your World

Be Yourself
> Creating a safe and inclusive space that prioritizes relationships and compassion
> Valuing humility, authenticity and vulnerability
> Building character by encouraging service, discipline and perseverance

Journey Together
> Sharing daily life together in a caring community is at the heart of who we are
> Cultivating an inclusive, open spirituality that is enriched by difference
> Travelling on our journey we respect the journeys of others

Expand Your World
> Broadening perspectives through experiential learning and travel, and the development of critical thinking and reflection
> Honouring tradition, we value innovation and creativity
> Challenging systems of power, exploitation and violence

Our Impact

SSU is uniquely privileged to spend an intensive four year period with young adults who are just starting out in life, full of questions, hungry to think for themselves and figure out life. It’s an amazing opportunity. Most universities are simply not equipped to come alongside each individual student to walk this personal journey with them. But SSU is different. By knowing, loving and supporting each and every student in our care, we are able to create an environment in which they can feel accepted just as they are: THIS is the foundation for meaningful change. What we see over and over again is rapid growth in maturity, character and confidence as our students share life together in a community that cares about them.

One of the highlights for SSU’s staff and faculty is an annual formal event the night before graduation that we call Ovation. During this special evening in a ballroom filled with students, parents, alumni, local friends and dignitaries, each graduand has the opportunity to share how SSU has impacted them. Each one has a unique story, but many highlight the dramatic effect that SSU’s caring community has had on their personal lives, reflecting on how they arrived at SSU and how they’re leaving changed. Sometimes the transformation we see is incredible, and consequently Ovation has become a wonderful reward for staff and faculty, highlighting for them why they do what they do.

Another area in which we see transformation is in our students’ worldviews. Most arrive at SSU with a worldview derived largely from their parents and home/school environment. During their time at SSU they get those worldviews challenged through their interactions with others who see things differently, and by the travel terms, when they are exposed to even more diverse perspectives and ways of life. Our students inevitably become more open- and broad-minded, which we see impacting their behaviour and attitudes towards others. Employers are looking for people with exactly this kind of character – they can teach new employees how to do a job, but it’s hard to teach how to get along with other people in the office…

And then there’s the academic transformation we see time and again. Because we know each of our students, we can help them learn and grow in their own unique ways. We can offer personalised support to students who might otherwise slip through the cracks in a larger university. We often admit students who have not performed particularly well at high school because that kind of learning environment was not suited to their learning style. This kind of student can flourish at SSU. Over four years our students learn how to think and communicate well, how to present an argument with humility and confidence, how to hold different ideas in tension and how to formulate opinions and listen to the opinions of others. Again, this prepares them for the workplace, but it’s also a good example of how we can help our students figure out who they are and what they’re good at, drawing out of them their strengths and uncovering gifts that could have remained hidden.

So what? Why is this kind of transformation valuable?

As staff and faculty who have dedicated ourselves to SSU’s mission, we believe that by helping to shape young people early in their adult lives we are sowing seeds of justice, beauty and compassion that will grow and multiply in all the different communities our graduates end up living. By inspiring our students to think and learn about stuff that matters, to tackle injustice, to see beauty and love people who aren’t like them, we are sending out thoughtful, humble, passionate people to proactively change the world for the better.

For many of us, our own university experience was merely an extension of high school – an education perhaps, but not a deeply formative experience.

Most universities are concerned with what you do, not who you are.

But at SSU we see an opportunity to use the four years of a university degree to not only educate, but to love people, to help form and transform them, and to set them on a path of deeper meaning and purpose.

Other universities can boast of how many of their graduates go on to further study, or how much money their graduates make within so many years. SSU can boast about that too: over 30% of our graduates go on to postgraduate study, with many receiving significant scholarships, and SSU has prepared students for a myriad of diverse industries and organisations. We are very proud of our graduates and how they’ve changed the world.

But what we end up actually boasting about is the beautiful people we have come to know and love, how we see them transform before our eyes, and how we get to watch them as they go out into the world pursuing justice, beauty and compassion.

We warmly invite you to join us as we pursue our mission. We highly value our friends, partners and donors, and their support is vital in sustaining what we do. If you are inspired by our vision, we would love you to get involved. The best way to join in is to visit us here in St. Stephen; we have various events, some weekly and some annual, which are ideal for getting to know us. We also have a monthly newsletter to keep people in the loop.

One of our greatest needs is for financial partners. We keep our tuition and residence fees close to those of other universities near us, but with so few students we rely heavily on donations to operate. We are a private liberal arts university that is chartered to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees by the Province of New Brunswick as a non-profit organization. About one third of the total operating cost of the university is contributed by individuals and foundations who love what we are doing. We invite YOU to partner with us! We would love to meet up with you to chat about your involvement. We will appreciate your donation, however large or small, and your participation in our vision.

If you’d like to make a donation, click on the button below to donate using any major credit card or a PayPal account. (You can use Paypal for credit card donations, even if you do not have a Paypal account.)

NOTE: If your donation is for a specific purpose, such as a scholarship or fundraising campaign, you can designate this during the PayPal checkout process.