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Mashiter bridge construction under way

With a blue sky above, wet ground below and fresh air all around an quick yet important ceremony was held at the top of The Boulevard Tuesday (April 20).

With a blue sky above, wet ground below and fresh air all around an quick yet important ceremony was held at the top of The Boulevard Tuesday (April 20).

Sea to Sky University (SSU) president David Strangway sat in the cab of an excavator to mark the official launch of construction of a bridge that will take Squamish into a new future.

Strangway was joined by Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland and a number of dignitaries to mark the start of the historic construction across the Mashiter to SSU's campus lands and market housing east of the Garibaldi Highlands.

The occasion called for something more than the traditional picture of men in suits with hardhats on and shovels in hand so all those involved posed on the huge piece of equipment parked 15 metres above Mashiter Creek.

Strangway isn't known for his ability to drive an excavator. Instead, his reputation was established through driving fundraising initiatives for education and scientific research.

The former president of the University of BC recently stepped down from his leadership role with the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

"I stepped down after six years as president and CEO on March 31," Strangway said.

"It was a challenge and opportunity of unbelievable significance," he said. "We were created in 1997 at arms length from government but funded by government."

The organization was tasked with using government money to fund research initiatives at universities across the country through cost shared funding schemes where the federal money was matched by money from other sources.

Strangway said that in 1998 $800 million in federal funding was granted and by 2003 the total amount was sitting at $3.65 billion.

He made the move from helping to distribute millions to research projects so he can concentrate full-time on the efforts to create SSU, Canada's first private, non-profit secular university.

As part of the move away from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Strangway is moving to Squamish and in the final stages of setting up an office here. He is working out of the Sea to Sky University office on Loggers Lane in the Forests Ministry building. He and his wife are also establishing their home very near the future university.

"I'm really happy to be here to work on the university," he said. "But it wasn't easy to step down from the foundation. I couldn't do both at the level it is needed."

This was a good time to step out, Strangway said.

"If we are going to open in 2006 we have a hell of a lot to do."

In the coming months, Strangway will concentrate with his team on policy development for the private not-for-profit university. Another priority is determining what kind of students they need to attract. A third priority is turning letters of intent with potential partners into true partnership agreements.

The students who attend the university will enjoy a student to teacher ratio of 10 to one - a ratio that is much lower than most other universities around the world.

"The students are going to get a lot of attention from faculty," he said. "The block program we will offer will a high level of intensity and student participation will be emphasized."

Strangway wants his university to be a truly international experience. He dreams of producing citizens of the world who will come to Squamish to learn about different cultures and different ways of thinking.

"We want young Canadians to be exposed to others from around the world so they understand how complex our world is," he said.

Getting into the school won't be as easy as simply writing a cheque for the expensive tuition. Strangway said those who apply will have to write an entry essay, submit a portfolio and give references. He said it will take work just to get into the higher education centre.

The dream that began in 1997 when Strangway left UBC is now becoming reality as workers with heavy equipment prepare to bridge Mashiter Creek.

Once the span is finished, Strangway and his team will have full legal access to the university lands and while policies are being developed on paper, pipes will be laid in the ground and a new neighbourhood will develop as land sales start.

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