Diversity Abroad annually recognizes institutions, organizations, and individuals who work towards fostering equity, access, and academic and career success for diverse students by developing inventive practices or conducting original research.
A Los Angeles native, Ayala majors in sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She has championed diverse and inclusive education throughout her college career, working with various service organizations to promote college readiness in communities that are underrepresented in higher education. She studied abroad in Chile, where she was active in a nonprofit group that works with several communities in Santiago and provides high-quality education for low-income students.
“Yesenia Ayala serves as a vibrant example of what one can accomplish through the power of study abroad,” said IES Abroad Diversity Relations Manager Hernando Sevilla-Garcia, who nominated Yesenia for the award.
“Her accomplishments thus far as a Latina, first-generation college student and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants are truly inspiring to not only her peers but to those of us in international education who have been lucky enough to work with and share in her remarkable journey," he added. "I know she will continue to use education as a tool to empower others.”
Ayala has worked with Al Éxito ("to success"), an organization that prepares Latino high school students in Iowa for college and economic security; and Breakthrough New York, a nonprofit committed to preparing low-income students in New York City for college. In addition, she has designed and led college-readiness workshops to teach young Latino students in Iowa and their parents about the U.S. education system, financial aid, essay writing and the college applications process.
Of the award, Ayala said, "I was very surprised, as I did not see it coming. I really appreciate the opportunity as I truly believe that more students of underrepresented backgrounds should have the opportunity to study abroad. I believe that an opportunity abroad can broaden our understandings of cultural competency and its importance when we bring it back to our own communities."
Ayala added that, "In addition, I'm grateful of the opportunity I had to not only study abroad, but also work with Belen Éduca, a Chilean non-profit that works with several communities in Santiago and provides high quality education for low-income students. The experience working with that organization showed me that it's important to engage with the local community when you study abroad as it allows an opportunity of growth and learning."
Ayala has earned numerous prestigious honors and awards throughout her college career. Last year, she was awarded the Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 nationally competitive graduate study scholarship sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Foundation. In addition, she was recognized as one of 11 White House Champions of Change in 2015. Ayala is also a Posse Scholar, a recipient of an academic and leadership scholarship that covers four years of tuition for multicultural cohorts of 10 students from urban areas that may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes.
On campus, Ayala has served as services coordinator for the Student Government Association, and as a cabinet member for the Student Organization of Latinos. After graduation, she plans to spend the summer in Washington, D.C., with the Truman Scholarship Summer Institute, an eight-week public service internship program for Truman Scholars.