Dave Turpin | 49 Langarans Award Recipient

This ‘problem kid’ became a university president

How Dave Turpin became a student at Langara College — and then the president and vice-chancellor at the University of Alberta — is an odd story.

Turpin readily admits he started as a student who was “profoundly bored in high school” and not doing well.

“I could be outstanding if I liked the teacher and I found the material exciting, I would be below average and be a discipline problem if I was bored,” he said.

One day during grade 9 Guidance class, the teacher announced that if anyone was interested in graduating early, they should stay after class for more information.

Turpin remembers everyone else leaving the classroom after the bell sounded, but he walked up to the teacher’s desk.

“The teacher looked at me and said, ‘Turpin, what are you doing here? You’re too stupid.’”

Later that night his mother learned of the teacher’s remarks, and by the next day the teacher had changed his tune and told Turpin what he needed to do.

“All of the sudden my marks went up,” he said, adding that by the end of Grade 11, he was only missing one course for graduation.

“Rather than hanging around high school I saw that I could register at Langara, I could make up that high school course, and I did a full first-year load,” he said. “I so enjoyed it that I stayed a second year there, too.”

He went on to complete further schooling and today he has a PhD as well as an established scientific research and leadership career.

“What Langara did for me is provide that opportunity to transition to post-secondary school in a non-traditional way,” he said. “We all have very different learning styles. What I found is I learn best when it’s experiential, really interactive, and when I can go at my own pace.

“High school was simply not motivating to me, whereas I found when I got to Langara there were opportunities to be independent and a self-starter.”

The learning style fits with his career as a scientist, he added.

“It’s not doing what somebody tells you, it’s doing what you recognize is important to learn,” he said. “That’s what any education should do; it should empower you to learn.”

As the 13th president of the University of Alberta and in former leadership roles, including 13 years as president of the University of Victoria, he said he supports courses offering different learning opportunities, such as lectures, readings, and interactive online material.

“Some people want to read a book, others want a lecture,” he said. “And people with different learning styles are now finding it easier to fit in.”

About Langara College’s 49 Langarans Celebrating its 49th year on 49th Avenue, Langara is honouring 49 Langarans; those who are making an impact in the community and have helped shape the College into what it is today. From theatre directors and journalists to small business owners, community advocates, and dedicated employees – the stories of the award recipients are as varied as the College’s journey over the past 49 years.

Meet the 49 Langarans at beyond49.langara.ca

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