Regan Oey grew up in Vancouver with his mother and two siblings. He went to Vancouver College and excelled in his studies, becoming class valedictorian and participating in both athletics—he was on the football and basketball team—and in community service, volunteering in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. That volunteer service, undertaken to fulfill a religion requirement, turned into something much more meaningful for Regan. “I learned a lot from that experience, making connections with the residents,” he explains. “It was an incredible experience.”
It was going to have more of an impact on his life than he knew: Regan’s academic and athletic achievements, combined with his leadership, made him an excellent candidate for a UBC Centennial Leaders Award.
“I watched my mom work three jobs as a single parent. I didn’t really see her. I felt I owed a lot to her, and maybe I should work after high school and help her—why would I make this choice to go to university, when the need was not as immediate as other things we were dealing with?” he says. He started thinking about jobs he could pursue after high school—but submitted his application to UBC anyway. And when he submitted it, he also included a general application for an award, in the hopes of some financial help to support his education.
He was accepted to UBC, but didn’t immediately accept the offer—not until he got the call he had received the Centennial Leaders award. “It was a shock and a surprise. You never expect it, especially an award of this magnitude.” He says. He admits it was overwhelming, and he immediately called his mother, overcome with emotion. “And when enrollment services called, I then accepted the offer within five seconds!”
He’s currently in his second year at UBC, studying cognitive systems. “I’ve always been interested in why people are the way they are,” he says. “I would see people in the Downtown Eastside and ask how they ended up there. I would hear hundreds of stories.” The potential to make new discoveries in psychology to help people is what’s now driving him. “Hopefully I’ll answer them one day but I have a long way to go!”
There aren’t many days that go by when he doesn’t realize how lucky he is to have his award. “I know students in financial need and I know how that feels. All of my friends work. It’s not uncommon to go to a lecture, then go straight to work, and then try and get a jump on their homework. I hear so often ‘I wasn’t able to do this because I was working’ or ‘I was too tired.’”
He wants everyone to know what a difference the award has made in his life. Instead of spending time at a part-time job, he is volunteering on a project to broaden the knowledge of Indigenous history and culture in high schools in Vancouver—one of several causes that he’s passionate about, trying to contribute to his community. “I’d like to combat the homeless problem in Vancouver,” he says. And to do that, he’s trying to tap into all that UBC has to offer—all the people and resources and connections he can make that will ultimately help him help others.
“It’s a big step to look at youth or students in high school and say ‘you’re going to do great things’,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a risk investing in people.” But he also says it’s not just him who benefits: “You have no idea what this has done for me, how many doors it has opened for me and my family. And in turn, it makes me want to give back.” He wants UBC donors to know just one thing, “For someone to take a chance on me, I hope they know that I’m going to make the world a better place. And if more donors are able to do that for other students, the impact they will have is immeasurable.”
To read more about the impact of donor awards, and how you can help, please read this year’s issue of Changing Worlds.