Omar Tantawi, a chemistry graduate from the American University of Beirut, is the first graduate from the Department of Chemistry, and the first USAID scholar, to be nominated as a candidate for the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to pursue his graduate studies in the United States.
This success story comes after years of hard work and dedication. Tantawi, who grew up in the region of Akkar, North Lebanon, came to AUB fully funded by USAID, only to prove himself determined to make the most of his educational opportunities. Besides his courses, Tantawi volunteered with the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, working on a solid waste management project, and participated in two international workshops on civic engagement.
In Chemistry, Tantawi joined the lab of Professor Antoine Ghauch to hone his research skills and gain technical experience. Two years later, he was encouraged by Dr. Ghauch to apply for the Fulbright scholarship and, after the selection process, he was happy to be amongst the nominated. Only one step separates him from the grant, and that is being accepted to one of the universities he is applying to for admission.
At this early phase in his academic life, Tantawi impressively co-authored several publications with his advisor. Tantawi is planning on applying to the field of environmental engineering, aiming for schools such as the University of California-Berkeley.
“I met Omar when he was my advisee, and learned about his interest in pure chemistry,” said Dr. Ghauch. “Pre-med students at the department are prioritizing their MCAT and grades required for med school over obtaining research experience, but when I learned that Omar is a USAID student, I knew he’d qualify to do research. USAID students have already proven themselves capable.”
“I recruited him on a voluntary basis and he showed me teamwork skills and excellent behavior and commitment, as well as great outcomes,” added Dr. Ghauch. “Omar proved himself reliable and independent as an undergraduate, which is not a pattern we see often.”
In principle, research labs are always trying to attract talented undergraduates. “They are our hands in the department, and help us implement several grants,” explained Dr. Ghauch.
Tantawi was working on a PEER (Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research) grant that Dr. Ghauch obtained in 2016, which is funded by USAID (Project 5-18 Award number AID-OAA-A-11-00012) and managed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS).
“I tried to create a link and do something that has not been done: connecting a USAID scholar to a USAID-funded grant. We showed the funding agencies that the people who were already selected by them are of high caliber, showing great outcomes while working on their projects,” said Dr. Ghauch.
Professor Ghauch encouraged Tantawi to apply to UC Berkeley, where he will get the chance to continue working on the same research project that is related to water treatment and sustainability, with the US Governmental partner there, Professor David Sedlak. Dr. Ghauch emphasized on the importance of student life at AUB, and encouraged all students to be involved in research and civic engagement during their undergraduate years.
“AUB will give them the key, a master key to open any door after leaving AUB for graduate school outside Lebanon, or for corporate jobs,” said Dr. Ghauch. “Chemistry students are lucky to be part of one of the most active departments in FAS, and have plenty of opportunities to participate in conferences and research.”
Tantawi expressed his gratitude for having worked at Dr. Ghauch’s lab, and under a USAID-funded grant.
“My experience was empowering and encouraging; I learned how to do research from A to Z, all while staying updated on the latest news and publications,” said Tantawi. “USAID gave a life changing opportunity allowing me to join AUB, and later when I worked on USAID-funded community projects and research grants. USAID brought the best in me and in my friends.”