By Jennifer Mistrot and Michelle Griego

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — This week’s Students Rising Above scholar is a San Francisco activist who uses education as a way to empower herself and others, with her academic success making a positive impact for communities of color in the Bay Area.

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Rana Salem is spending more time alone these days as she finishes up her senior year at San Francisco’s Balboa High School virtually.

“I miss everyone,” declared Salem. “I miss my classmates. I miss my teachers.”

The bubbly, 17-year-old Salem is used to having a packed social calendar. Salem is a youth leader at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center or AROC, a non-profit that serves Arabs and people of color.

And she is also a cloud engineer Intern at Snowflake, Inc., a tech start-up that offers data warehouse services. But she’s also the typical high school senior, one who is waiting to hear back from her top college picks, some of which are out of state.

“I’ve got one letter, back but I am just waiting for a couple more,” said Salem as she listed off some of her possible destinations. “Rice University in Texas, and also Harvard, because you know, why not?”

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Rice University and Harvard are prestigious schools that could accept Salem’s application. She has 4.0 GPA. But as proud as she is of all her school success, Salem’s community and family score higher than anything else in her life. And during the pandemic, she has seen financial struggles affect their mental health.

“I just really want to help people,” explained Salem. “And I feel like growing up in a low-income community with a lot of people of color, like, we’re never really given any mental health resources. We acknowledge, like, physical health, but we never acknowledge mental health. And I feel like in society, period, like, mental health is not addressed or normalized as it should be.”

So Salem plans on becoming a therapist, then a psychiatrist, using her education as a tool to community activism and connection.

“[I want to] fight against the injustices, for Arab Americans and just people of color in general,” said Salem. “Peers going through the same thing as me; people that I could share my culture with.”

She also tutored grade-school age students at Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School in San Francisco, so teaching could be another career for this busy SRA scholar. And as her academic success makes a positive impact for communities of color in the Bay Area, she shares these words of encouragement.

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“You are not alone,” said Salem. “So if anybody’s feeling down, especially during COVID, especially during distance learning, just hang in there. It’ll be worth it.”