Scholarships aim to give Park City’s young immigrants a helping hand
To Bassam Salem, education is everything.
That was a lesson his parents imparted on him when he was a child and reinforced when the family immigrated to the United States from Egypt when Salem was 13. Education, they told him, was the only thing nobody could ever take away from him.
“As an immigrant, it’s really the path you have,” he said. “You don’t have any other privileges, except for working hard and trying to use your brain and try to enter the middle class through education.”
Now Salem, a Park City entrepreneur, and his wife, Ana Salem, are aiming to show young immigrants in Summit County the opportunities that await them through education. They recently awarded the 2019 Salem Scholarships to Park City High School seniors Rodrigo Tubilla, Sadie Ortiz and Javier Vazquez, who each immigrated to the U.S. and plan to attend college. In addition to the $1,000 scholarships, each student will participate in a summer internship at Salem’s Park City-based startups, AtlasRTX and Mindshare Ventures.
This is the fourth year the Salems have awarded the scholarships, and they decided to supplement them with summer internships after Tubilla interned at AtlasRTX last year through the Bright Futures program.
Salem said the goal of the internships is to enlighten the students about what types of careers they can pursue if they complete their education. During the 10-week program, the students will shadow professionals performing a range of duties such as finance and accounting, sales, marketing and customer service.
“There are white collar jobs, professional jobs that immigrant kids can consider, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel after going to college,” Salem said. “We thought that could actually be more impactful than the financial contribution.”
Tubilla said his experience at AtlasRTX last year was “life-changing” because it helped him decide he wants to study computer science at the University of Utah. He is eager to learn more this summer.
“I did not know the field of computer science,” he said. “It really helped me to learn about the opportunities I can get in that field.”
Ortiz, who plans to attend Westminster College and study political science, said she is grateful for the chance to explore her interests in a professional setting.
“Just the fact that I’m getting an opportunity to expand what I can potentially do in the future and what I can work in in the future is awesome,” she said.
For Ana Salem, providing a helping hand to young immigrants is the fulfillment of what she sees as a responsibility. Though not an immigrant herself, she was a close friend of Bassam’s sister in high school and saw firsthand how difficult it was for his family to establish a foothold in a new country.
And there are few students more deserving of the assistance than Ortiz, Tubilla and Vazquez, she said, lauding them for their work ethic in school and in their volunteer work around the community.
“I feel so passionately about recognizing the opportunities I had and potentially took for granted,” she said. “It definitely gets to my heart to see the struggles I know all of the immigrants have to go through. That’s why this is so important to me.”
Bassam said that living in an expensive city where it’s difficult for immigrants to find high-paying work presents first-generation students in Park City with an even bigger challenge than what he faced when his family moved to America.
He added the scholarships and internships are only a small part of what can be done to lift the area’s young immigrants. If everyone in the community were to pitch in, he said, all students could be given a shot at success.
“One fundamental thing I sincerely believe in is that our country is built on the greatness of immigrants,” he said. “Our job is to integrate them, make them successful, help them contribute, help them succeed and build a life here. That helps us all.”
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.