Campus Life

How one student fit together the pieces of her college puzzle

Senior Rana Mohamed built her Penn State experience by combining involvement with academics.

Rana Mohamed spent an alternative break trip in Immokalee, Florida. Mohamed serves on the Penn State Alternative Breaks board as the executive director.   Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Rana Mohamed, a senior double-majoring in international politics and global and international studies, college can be described as a puzzle comprised of various pieces consisting of academics and outside involvement.

“We all come to college without any of the pieces, and it’s on you to find the different pieces that make you the whole puzzle,” Mohamed said.

Over the past four years at Penn State, Mohamed has found some pieces and put them together to help start to form her future career.

Mohamed keeps her schedule full by involving herself in on-campus clubs and activities, such as being a coordinator and tutor at the Writing Center, a program assistant for Special Living Options (SLO), and executive director of the Penn State Alternative Breaks (PSAB) program.

Mohamed credits her involvement with PSAB to her older brother, who also attended Penn State and introduced her to the organization. Mohamed said that her brother helped her navigate various campus opportunities and build a community at Penn State.     

After participating in a trip her freshman year, Mohamed fell in love with PSAB and its mission. At the end of her freshman year, Mohamed was given a leadership position in the organization, which was shifting in structure, and the adviser at the time recognized her potential. From there, Mohamed led two trips her sophomore year, pushed the organization into new topics covering race and the LGBTQA community, served as site development director planning eight trips, and finally took the offer of the executive director position.

PSAB, coordinated through the Office of Student Activities in Penn State Student Affairs, is a program where students are provided with the opportunity to learn more about themselves, the world around them, and the ability to give back during fall, winter or spring break. Each trip and program is designed to encourage growth, civic engagement, and the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a new community.

Mohamed said the “hidden thank you” of the hard work and dedication she gives to PSAB is seeing students go on trips and come back with the passion to stay involved and learn more.

PSAB has helped Mohamed learn new things about herself and open doors to friendships she would have otherwise not gained.

“Everyone here can teach me something new, challenge an idea, or provide something new that I haven’t gained before,” Mohamed said.

Her freshman year, Mohamed was skeptical of just how diverse Penn State would be. But her involvement in different clubs and the classes she attends has helped open her eyes.

Four years later, Mohamed said that her idea of diversity has changed. Initially, Mohamed perceived Penn State as a university lacking diversity but then quickly realized the different factors that play a role in diversity — factors that go deeper than the color of one's skin, like where they were raised or their life experiences

Mohamed said that PSAB helped her deepen this understanding of diversity through meeting leaders and students who opened her eyes to the different layers of a person.

Mohamed believes that having this ability to look deeper into people’s lives prepares her for the workforce, allowing her to better market herself.

Penn State has been a more than welcoming home, Mohamed said. But the real work starts when the excitement of freshman year wears off and students have to continue to find those welcoming experiences for themselves. Mohamed said that her brother and PSAB helped her find these welcoming spaces for herself and create them for others.

“Once the storm settles down and you realize that you are on your own, it’s up to you to find the spaces that are welcoming,” Mohamed said.

The biggest resource to Mohamed has been her first alternative breaks adviser, Kelly Dowd, who gave her the ability to grow and flourish within the program and more.

“She allowed me to define what being a leader is, she has challenged me and given me so much freedom to carve my way through alternative breaks and in life,” Mohamed said. “Leadership is a journey that doesn’t always have a template, but initiative can push you and your passion to new heights.”

Mohamed plans on taking a year or two off after graduating in May to gain life experiences and discover what she wants to do with her future before going back to graduate school.

Mohamed recommends students always be open and add more experiences to their college puzzle. Not having everything together or planned out is something students need to know is OK.

“College is a journey and there are still lessons you will continue to learn beyond college. It doesn’t end here, and that’s OK,” Mohamed said.

Last Updated March 15, 2019