Yesenia Ayala ’18 has won IES Abroad’s 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Award.

IES Abroad is a leading nonprofit organization providing access to study-abroad and internship programs in cities around the world. “Now more than ever, it’s important to bring attention to the next generation of global citizens as they are our future leaders,” the organization’s website says.

Ayala was chosen as the 2017 IES Abroad Global Citizen of the Year for her dedicated work abroad with Belén Educa in Santiago, Chile. A short IES Abroad bio about her states, “Yesenia’s passion and mission to increase access to high-quality education for students around the world inspired us as a student-focused, mission-driven organization. Yesenia also successfully articulated how she will apply her experiences abroad — now and in the future — which showed us that she strives to be a global citizen every day, not just today or simply just for this award.”

Ayala is a sociology, Spanish, and Latin American studies student at Grinnell College. While studying abroad for the spring 2017 semester in IES Abroad’s Santiago — Politics, Social Justice, and Language program, she was eager to engage with the local education system.

As a first-generation college student, Ayala understands the barriers many low-income students face when pursuing higher education. While in Santiago, Ayala interned with Belén Educa, a Chilean nonprofit organization that serves low-income communities by providing high-quality education to students. Ayala was placed at Colegio Alberto Hurtado, one of Belén Educa’s schools, where she assisted in English classes and helped with events, programming, and administrative work.

“My journey at this school completely changed my perspective on what education looks like internationally and expanded my mind,” Ayala says. “Every interaction with the teachers, students, and administrators made me aware of why this type of work is essential globally. The first and most important lesson I learned with the group of seventh-through-12th-grade students was the importance of cultural competency, no matter your background or race. Therefore, my mindset consisted of learning about the community first and allowing them to guide me in the different ways I could support their needs.”

After she returned to the United States, Ayala gave presentations about her experience to Grinnell College students and families. She continues to work toward education equity through a mentoring and tutoring program she co-leads at the Meskwaki Settlement School in South Tama, Iowa. She also is preparing to publish a culturally competent college-access mentoring curriculum as the result of her cumulative work with several organizations.

As the winner of the Global Citizen of the Year Award, Ayala will receive a $1,000 prize. The other finalists for the award included Kathleen Blehl, Villanova University; Dayna Mathew, Loyola University-Chicago; Marie Salem, University of California-Berkeley; Lucy Sternbach, Yale University; and Will Turett, Williams College.

Ayala also recently received the 2018 Global Student Leadership Award from Diversity Abroad and last year received the Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 nationally competitive graduate study scholarship sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Foundation. She was also named a 2018 Principal Community Scholar and has been honored by the White House for her contributions to the Latino community in Iowa.

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