From the Middle East to the Midwest

Mohammad AlKazimi and Hanan Altabbakh with their children.              Sam O'Keefe/Missouri S&T

Mohammad AlKazimi and his wife Hanan Altabbakh pose for a family portrait with their children (from left) Abdullah, 12, Jana, 9, infant son Abdulrazzaq and Malak, 14. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

When Mohammad AlKazimi and Hanan Altabbakh return home to Kuwait later this summer, they will take a lot of Rolla with them.

They will return to their homeland with three Missouri S&T degrees between them, one additional child, several boxes of books, four black belts in Taekwondo and over six years of memories. 

Soon after their arrival in January 2009, Rolla became home for the couple and their three Kuwait-born children: Malak (now 14), Abdullah (12) and Jana (9). Their fourth child, Abdulrazzaq, was born in June in the U.S.

“Rolla is a family-oriented small town, and we will miss it,” says Altabbakh. “The people are so friendly here, and the weather is so amazing with the changing seasons all year round. Our kids enjoyed making new friends and loved sharing their culture with them.”

‘A broader perspective’

The couple came to Missouri S&T so that AlKazimi could pursue a Ph.D. in petroleum engineering. His employer, Kuwait Oil Co., where he had worked for nine years before coming to Rolla, sponsored AlKazimi’s S&T education as part of a professional development program.

“They want to create a new breed of leaders within the organization – leaders with a broader perspective and a strong grounding in research,” he says.  “They seek the best universities in the field” of petroleum engineering, “and Missouri S&T is part of that group.”

AlKazimi chose to attend S&T in part because of the “family-oriented” community of Rolla. He completed his Ph.D. over the summer.

AlKazimi also encouraged Altabbakh, who holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Kuwait University, to continue her education. She enrolled in engineering management, earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

“She graduated before me,” AlKazimi says. “I think women have more determination and focus when it comes to finishing a task. Plus, she’s smarter than I am.”

Striking a balance

With young children, balancing family life and studies was a significant challenge for the couple. “You still must have time and energy to nurture your kids and follow up with their school work, after-school activities, leisure time and basic needs,” Altabbakh says.

But the couple’s studies, research and family obligations didn’t prevent them from getting involved on campus.

AlKazimi served as chair of Missouri S&T’s Council of Graduate Students during the 2012-2013 academic year and chaired the International Student Concerns Committee. He also served on the board of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. He is a member of the S&T chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Pi Epsilon Tau (the national petroleum engineering honor society), Alpha Epsilon Lambda (the national honor society for graduate and professional school students) and the American Society of Safety Engineers and served on the campus’s strategic planning steering committee.

Altabbakh is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Management and the national engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi.

A milestone in their academic journey occurred when the couple took national top honors in the 2012 Student Safety Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering. Altabbakh won first place, AlKazimi second.

The American experience

The entire family has become immersed in the American experience, too. Even though they had to travel to St. Louis to purchase certain foods or dine in a Middle Eastern restaurant, the family found ways to be involved closer to Rolla. AlKazimi and the three oldest children practiced martial arts at Prosser’s ATA Black Belt Academy in downtown Rolla, and all four have been recommended for the black belt designation. The children also learned to play piano under the instruction of Kathy Mazzeo and have developed a love of reading.

“We have more than four large heavy boxes of books to ship,” AlKazimi says. “Investing in your children is a long-term growth proposition. I strongly believe that young readers, with multi talents and skills, will grow to become future leaders.”

His oldest daughter, Malak, loves badminton, swimming and volleyball.  She also enjoys photography and art; drawing self-portraits are her favorite medium. “I’m always mesmerized whenever she shows me a portrait she drew or a photo she took with my camera,” AlKazimi says. Her love for math and science earned her several awards in Rolla Junior High’s Math Club, which she joined while still in the fifth grade.

Abdullah is into sports, mainly swimming and basketball. He joined the Sports Inc. Rolla (SIR) basketball team and traveled for tournaments with his teammates. A fan of college basketball, in June he attended a basketball camp at Duke University, where he was able to meet Coach Mike Krzyzewski.  “Right now,” Alkazimi says, his son is “living the dream.”  Abdullah also won several awards for his academic achievements.

Daughter Jana is involved in the local Quest program for gifted students. “She enjoys new challenges and being out of her comfort zone,” AlKazimi says. She also enjoys sports, specifically badminton and swimming, as well as writing short stories, drawing and crafts. She usually incorporates science experiments into her crafts, Alkazimi says. “She amazes us with her creativity.”

Abdulrazzaq, the youngest child, has “brought joy to our growing, yet quiet, family,” AlKazimi says. “He started cooing, and now the house is filled with mixed noises of gurgling and cries.”

AlKazimi adds, “I always remind my kids that they are blessed to be living abroad at such a young age where they will have the best of both cultures.”

As for Alkazimi and Altabbakh, they leave Rolla hoping that the campus continues to flourish as a destination for international students. AlKazimi, especially, will continue to monitor social media and news outlets for updates about Missouri S&T.

“The academic outcomes of this institute can significantly add to the body of knowledge in any field, and we have plenty of potentials and talents within both the faculty and the students,” he says. “Every time I see a story about some new research or new development out of S&T, it makes me a proud Miner.”

By Andrew Careaga


  1. Great story, and glad they became a part of the S&T family!! Best wishes in returning to their homeland!!

  2. Roberta Morgan says

    This is a great story! We’re going to miss them. I felt lucky to be able to hold the little one during a pause in the photo shoot! Congratulations to the entire family.

  3. Adrienne Neckermann says

    This is a great couple. They have both been a blessing to this campus and community. CGS is very lucky to have had Mohammad as President!

  4. Mengnan Wei says

    Darn! I miss school!

  5. Meggie Wen says

    Great family! We will sure miss all of you!

  6. Kate Jones says

    I’m so sad to see you all leave. Seems like just yesterday I was coaching “Mal” in Upwards basketball and finding out that you were from Kuwait. That your neoces and nephews attended the exact school I taught at in Kuwait. Truly is a small world. I’m so blessed to have gotten to know you all. I wish you he very best and thankful we have FB to stay in touch.