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Transfer student learns English, brings determination to succeed

October 01, 2013

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

Four years ago, Sahba Zaare came to the United States with limited financial resources and knowing only rudimentary English. He emigrated from Iran with his mother, bringing only an abiding determination to work hard, to get an education and to succeed.

This fall he is a transfer student to ASU with a number of prestigious scholarships, having graduated with highest honors last spring from Mesa Community College. He was selected as the honors graduation speaker at the MCC commencement. He speaks English so rapidly that it’s hard to take notes as he talks.

“After attending information sessions at Barrett, the ASU Honors College, I wanted to attend ASU and Barrett because of the wealth of opportunities available, especially the research and internship opportunities,” says Zaare. “I have wanted to become a doctor and do cancer research ever since my mother had breast cancer when I was very young.”

As a member of the Baha’i faith, a group that is persecuted in Iran, Zaare was denied an opportunity for higher education. His mother took him to Turkey, where they waited more than a year until the United States granted their emigration request after a long application and interview process.

Enrolling at MCC, Zaare listened carefully to his professors and classmates, but struggled to understand. He took ESL classes and read constantly to teach himself English, and he concentrated on math, physics and chemistry classes, in which the scientific language is universal. A breakthrough occurred when he began attending meetings of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

“At the first meeting, my legs were shaking and I didn’t understand 75 percent of the conversations,” he says. “But I continued attending, and after five months I was elected an officer. At that point I didn’t have a choice but to speak English well, because I was responsible for their fundraising and budget.”

He quickly became involved in service activities with the group and established an honors council that developed a nutrition education project with first-graders in Mesa. The project was selected as one of the top three research-based service projects for Phi Theta Kappa in the nation and Zaare was named the most distinguished officer in Arizona.

Zaare went on to earn a number of scholarships, including the Coca-Cola Leader of Promise, the Chancellor’s Scholarship and the 2013 All-Arizona Academic 1st Team award. After MCC graduation he became one of only 10 students in the nation to receive the $7,500 Hites Transfer Scholarship, the top scholarship bestowed by Phi Theta Kappa.

He is majoring in biochemistry at ASU, where he finds his honors and science courses, and his lab experience challenging, yet extremely exciting and promising.

“I love all the opportunities here,” he says. “At ASU you have everything you could ever want.”