Getting into university without having to take the gruelling DSEs might sound like wishful thinking, but Owen Lei Chin-wang has managed to do just that. Owen was a Form Five student when he was accepted into Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He is one of only two people ever to get into HKUST without having to take any public examinations. Now, while his classmates are busy studying for their DSEs next year, he is getting ready to start university next month.
Owen applied to HKUST's International Research Enrichment Programme (IRE) through the Non-Jupas Entry System in December. He became interested in the programme after going to the university's admission talks.
"Unlike other programmes, IRE provides a lot of freedom and flexibility by allowing students to conduct their own experiments and projects in the university laboratory," says Owen. "It is tailor-made for people who are passionate about doing scientific research. It's rare that such an opportunity is offered to budding scientists, especially in Hong Kong."
When Owen first applied for the course, he was not confident that he would get in.
"The programme itself is very competitive. Each year, they only accept around 20 students. I wasn't sure about my chances, but it was worth a try," he says. When Owen found out he had been accepted, he couldn't contain his excitement. "Of course I was ecstatic, it means they recognised my past achievements," he says.
But as Owen knows, greatness is made, not born. Like a lot of parents in Hong Kong, his parents urged him to discover his interests and develop his potential at a young age.
"I had drawing classes and I learned to play the cello … but what I liked most was reading science books," he says. "My parents were very encouraging. When they realised that I had an interest in science, they bought me a lot of science-related books."
Owen also owes a lot to his school, Diocesan Boys' School (DBS), for supporting him. "The school encouraged me to study abroad to broaden my horizons. I have been to the US twice for science exchange programmes, and I've also been to Sweden, and every time the school subsidised the travel costs," he says.
Owen says there is one person in particular who helped him get to where he is today: Ronnie Cheng, the headmaster at DBS.
"Mr Cheng gave me the freedom to work on what I was interested in," he says. "He let me use the chemistry lab to conduct experiments on Saturday mornings and let me form a new science team at school. He didn't even mind that I had to skip classes to attend overseas research courses."
In January last year, Owen represented DBS when he went to study in New York for 20 days.
"I had the honour of working with the esteemed Professor Glen Kowach and researching nanotechnology there," he says.
At school, Owen was exceptionally busy. Apart from keeping his grades high, he also contributed to science-related groups. He was the founder of the International Junior Science Olympiad Team and chairman of the Science Society and the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Society. Outside of school, Owen is the president of the Joint School Science Society.
Throughout secondary school, Owen participated in all kinds of local and overseas competitions. He got double distinction in the World Class Arena problem-solving and mathematics competitions. He also attained first-class honours in the International Junior Science Olympiad.
Apart from scientific and mathematical achievements, Owen was also nominated by his school for the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award and the 28th HKSAR Outstanding Students Selection. He won both competitions.
Even with so many achievements under his belt, Owen remains humble. "Everyone has the ability to succeed in life as long as they put their mind to it," he says. "I think passion and enthusiasm are the most important things. No matter how high your IQ is, or how great your logical thinking is, without those two things, you won't be successful."