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.
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.
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.
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.
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.