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Why Give | Impact stories

An enduring legacy: Michael Quinn’s gift to UBC

How do legacy gifts impact the lives of individuals? For Sabrina Chang, a psychology student at UBC, the Michael Quinn Legacy enabled her to embark on a remarkable and life-changing journey.

Sabrina was an undergrad when she became the first recipient of the Quinn Travel Research Grant. She was studying behaviour in extreme situations. This research led her to a unique niche—the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Holocaust.

As one of the defining points in western history, the state murder of between 11 and 17 million people, including 6 million Jews, has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, programs, and films. Yet most fail to realize many different peoples were targeted.

“Unlike other groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses were still recognized as Germans,” explains Sabrina. “They were able to get a kind of free pass—if they signed an official renouncement of their faith. The Holocaust wasn’t a homogeneous experience. I think it’s important to identify and honour other groups who were persecuted at this time as well.”

Sabrina began her research in Vancouver, but after working for a year had only managed to acquire four transcripts—an insignificant sample size for a study. She approached department head Eric Eich who told Sabrina about the Quinn Travel Research Grant.

With the grant, Sabrina arranged a trip to New York to spend time at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Everyone thought my research was very interesting, so they gave me access to archival data that was amazing. I had access to information that wasn’t available anywhere else.”

For Sabrina, the Quinn Travel Grant not only allowed her to complete her research but also to deepen the general understanding of a profound historical event.

“The impact of the Quinn Endowment has been flat out transformative—it is enormous,” says Eric, who helped bring the Quinn Gifts to UBC.

In 2005, the Department of Psychology was informed of a new endowment available to fund pure research, although the backer was not named. After putting together a successful proposal, it was discovered that the benefactor was Michael Quinn—the second person to receive a PhD in Psychology from UBC in 1969.

Michael came from a humble background. “He was no silver-spooner and put himself through university,” explains Eric. “He invested wisely in the stock market and also had a very successful career as a clinician in Riverview. He left the university with $1.4 million, and the Dean of Arts, Nancy Galini, graciously boosted the endowment to $1.6 million.”

While such gifts would typically be used to fund a research chair, Eric had different ideas. “I wanted to put it towards undergraduate and graduate research efforts, because the university has an amazing reputation for research. I thought: why would a student want to come to UBC versus any other fine school? The answer was the research opportunities.”

“Without the grant, I couldn’t have pursued my first research passion,” says Sabrina. “That’s what led me to pursue graduate school. That’s why I’m standing here. It’s become an important part of my identity to be able to carry out research and learn exciting new things.”

Gifts to the University of British Columbia, such as the Michael Quinn Legacy, empower students to push their intellectual boundaries and change the world through a thirst for knowledge. Legacy gifts and estate planning are part of an important long-term financial strategy that allows UBC to consistently deliver an unbeatable education to students.

“You may say a donation is just a donation,” says Sabrina. “But you have no idea what it could lead to—what kind of impact it could have on someone’s life.