From Minnesota to Cambridge

Lebanese immigrant and chemical engineering graduate shares his personal story of success

Who would think that a Harvard rejection letter could actually be a blessing in disguise? Surprisingly, this was the case for Anthony Tabet, a 2017 University of Minnesota chemical engineering graduate.

Without being rejected by Harvard, Tabet never would have changed his major to chemical engineering or ended up at the University of Minnesota, one of the top chemical engineering schools in the country.

Earlier this year, Tabet was awarded the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, which grants him nearly $60,000 to attend Churchill College at the University of Cambridge in England where he will work on a master’s degree with a focus on cancer research. After his year in England, he is confirmed to attend MIT’s Ph.D. program in chemical engineering.

“I never fully appreciated the University of Minnesota’s prestige or how much people respect it until I traveled all over the country to other universities and saw it with my own two eyes,” Tabet said.

Humble beginnings

Born in Lebanon, Tabet immigrated to the United States with his family in 2001 when he was seven years old. As immigrants, his parents had low-paying jobs, and Tabet grew up on financial assistance like welfare and food stamps. He attributes his academic drive both to his parents for stressing the importance of education and to his acquired “immigrant mentality.”

“I learned early in life that if you want something, you have to work your tail off to get it,” Tabet said about his experience growing up as an immigrant.

Tabet’s academic motivation took him to full-time post-secondary option status at the University of Minnesota where he was taking all college classes while still in high school. After graduating from Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn., he decided to attend the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate education. He started out as a philosophy and political science major, but after taking his first chemistry class, he fell in love with the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering.

Research and involvement

After taking more chemistry classes, Tabet acquired a research position working under Department of Chemistry Associate Professor Aaron Massari where he began studying alternative energy and fossil fuels.

“He was the best mentor anyone could ever have,” Tabet said of Massari. “He invested a lot of time, energy, and money into me, and that really convinced me that this is what I want to do.”

Throughout his undergraduate career, Tabet has been involved with various student organizations including the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, and Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE).

In 2016, he received the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award for students who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural and applied sciences. The scholarship awards up to $10,000 for a year of undergraduate study.

Beyond life on campus, Tabet's involvement expands to the professional level with his co-founding of CoCreateX, an entrepreneurial company that allows Twin Cities companies to collaborate and gives potential entrepreneurs the resources and push necessary to catalyze their ideas.

The next chapter

Tabet said graduation is a bit bittersweet.

“I became an adult here at the University of Minnesota,” Tabet explained.

“I achieved all of my successes because of the investments of this city and this University, what they made me, and all the professional and personal friendships I’ve made,” he said.

Ultimately, Tabet is ready and looking forward to the next chapter in his life at the University of Cambridge as a recipient of the highly selective Churchill Scholarship awarded by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States. He is one of only 15 undergraduate seniors from institutions across the United States to be recognized as a Churchill scholar for his academic and research-oriented accomplishments.

Overseas, Tabet will spend a year at Cambridge working toward his master’s degree in chemistry and researching brain cancer therapeutics. Tabet attributes his interest biomedical therapy to two of his friends and mentors who were diagnosed with brain cancer. Since then, Tabet has been determined to make important scientific contributions to the fight against cancer.

After receiving his master’s degree at Cambridge, Tabet will work on a Ph.D. at MIT. His goal is to eventually work as a professor with the hopes of continuing his research on biomedical therapeutics and brain cancer.

“I’ve always been the person who did the best he could possibly do in school,” Tabet said. “I tried to reach for the stars, but I was never blessed with the resources early in life to see myself in that position. What I really like about the University of Minnesota is that you don’t have to come from a private high school or a background with a lot of money to really succeed. You have everything here you need to achieve success.”

Story by Olivia Hultgren

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