When Education Professor Judy Stuart first came to Furman University, Lesley Quast was there. As the department chair at the time, Quast offered her encouragement with her soft voice and comfort with her knowing smile.
“She seemed to say, ‘I understand’ with a nod and a gentle hand on my shoulder,” said Stuart, who coordinates Furman’s Special Education program. “It all worked beautifully to help me make the transition to the university.”
Whether she’s working closely with a faculty member or assisting a struggling freshman with his/her first year of college, it’s a story that’s told over and over again.
During her nearly 40 years at Furman, Quast is a professor and administrator who has become known for her warmth and kindness as a mentor, colleague, and friend. She will retire from the university on June 30.
Quast, a native of Chicago born to Canadian parents, found her way down south where she began her undergraduate studies at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C., a small liberal arts college where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
As a college student, she worked as a camp counselor for a program in New Jersey that served children with brain injuries. While several of her fellow counselors went home crying the first day, Quast was undaunted.
“These children had a lot of promise,” Quast said. “You just had to figure how to bring it out.”
Her gift for seeing potential in those around her has served her well throughout her career in education.
She began working as a special education teacher in the Richmond, Va. area, where she taught 12 students with disabilities ranging from spina bifida to paranoid schizophrenia.
Quast was then offered an assistantship at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she received her master of education degree in special education in 1971.
After teaching at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children in Richmond and working as a supervisor of University of Virginia master’s degree interns in mainstreamed classrooms, more doors opened for Quast.
“I’m typically not a goal setter for my life,” said Quast. “I tend to grab opportunities that seem to be right as I go along.”
She was drawn to the close-knit community at Furman and joined the university as a faculty member in the Education Department in 1976. She completed her doctorate in special education from the University of Alabama in 1977.
During her nearly four decades at Furman, Quast has held a variety of positions, including coordinator of Special Education, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) coordinator, director of Teacher Education, Education Department chair and director of Partnerships and Special Projects.
She was a key player in designing and implementing the Teacher to Teacher program, a partnership between Furman and local school districts that allows program participants to become first-year classroom teachers at the start of the K-12 academic year following graduation while continuing to complete teaching certification on the graduate level.
In her most recent role as assistant academic dean, Quast was primarily responsible for the administration and implementation of the university’s academic advising program. Her work with students experiencing academic difficulties earned her the Meritorious Advising Award last year.
Working with colleagues in Student Life, Quast helped craft a successful Summer Orientation program for new students built around academic experiences they will need in order to succeed at Furman. She also developed programs to assist parents in transitioning their students to college.
Quast was elected to a number of positions of leadership in the Council for Exceptional Children, a national organization that advocates for people with special needs. She chaired the South Carolina Network for Educational Renewal, a consortium with membership from Furman, the University of South Carolina, Columbia College, Winthrop University, and Benedict College.
Known for her profound interest in issues of diversity, Quast was instrumental in the development of Diverse School Cultures, a course that has received recognition from accrediting agencies and is part of the senior block experience for education majors certifying to teach.
Quast has served on numerous administrative and faculty committees on campus, including the university Diversity Committee, which she co-chaired first with Dr. Idella Glenn and then Assistant Chaplain Maria Swearingen.
Whether working with school districts—that eventually became Furman’s long-time partners in our transition from a traditional teacher education program to the highly recognized extended program the university showcases today—to conceptualizing grant proposals—that energized Furman’s program of teacher preparation and brought revenue to the Department, Furman, and the South Carolina Network for Educational Renewal—Quast has the ability to find practical, creative, and sometimes refreshingly unconventional solutions to complex issues, said Education Department Chair Nelly Hecker.
“We value and respect Lesley’s thinking,” said Hecker. “She is a caring mentor and advisor, a thoughtful teacher, and gracious friend.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed among her former students.
“From the moment I set foot in the Education Department as a sophomore, Dr. Quast was an uplifting encourager,” said Colin Rork ’00, a teacher at Hunt Meadows Elementary School in Anderson School District One for the past 15 years. “When some believed that perhaps my spiky hair was not appropriate for the elementary school setting, she laughed and reminded me to always be true to myself.”
“She motivated me to become expertly aware of the state standards. She showed me how to thoroughly prepare my lessons. But most importantly, she provided the support that empowered me to create my own personal classroom to reflect my personality, my interests, and my style,” said Rork.
“Thankfully for me, I can still hear Dr. Quast cheering me on. I always enjoyed the way that she drew out the word love when giving a compliment. She might say, “I just LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE the way that you set up your classroom.” Then, to show her sincerity, she followed it up with the reasons why she loved it,” Rork said. “I will always associate Dr. Quast with my positive feelings towards education. I will never forget the way she made me feel about myself as I discovered the teacher in me.”
Quast said she hopes to stay involved in the Furman community after retirement. She looks forward to spending time with her husband, Al Keiser, son, Ryan and grandchildren, Ryder and Evie, as well as doing some house decluttering and writing.