The Agnes W. H. Tan Science Symposium is made possible by a generous donation from the Agnes W. H. Tan estate, which allows Viterbo University to present an annual symposium focused in the field of biochemistry.

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Agnes Tan (left) and her roommate Ida Hill (right) in their dorm room, 1959.

Agnes Tan graduated from Viterbo University in 1963, with a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and a minor in Biology. An international student from Hong Kong, Tan had become acquainted with the university through the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration’s mission in Central China.  She believed that, thanks to a Viterbo scholarship, her education in the United States would be much less expensive, and her studies would be one year shorter than if she attended the University of Hong Kong, as her parents had done.

In addition to Tan, two of her sisters also came to Viterbo to study. Mary (Tan) Fong graduated in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, minoring in biology and math. Therese (Tan) Pui graduated in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.

Tan was a hard worker and was eager to participate in the American college experience. The Lumen, Viterbo University’s student newspaper, described her attitude regarding American life as adhering to the idea that “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” She was excited to get a summer job—something that was unusual in China. Academically, Tan was committed to learning as much as she could about her scientific fields. She is reported to have expressed an interest in working in the laboratory because she sought a hands on approach to utilize and expand her knowledge in STEM—which would have afforded her the opportunity to utilize and increase her knowledge.  

Tan went on to earn a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota and enjoyed a long career in academic and applied research as an assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Minnesota and as a research chemist at Veterans Administration Hospital, Minneapolis.

In addition to her successful career, she became a life-long learner who took courses and learned new skills throughout her life.  Tan deeply appreciated the liberal arts education she received at Viterbo and chose to support the institution so that others may be inspired and share in her love of learning.  By all accounts, she was a remarkable woman—a true example of the Viterbo spirit.