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CHCI-Coca-Cola Public Policy Fellow
Hometown: Panorama City, California
School: Grinnell College
Degree: B.A. in Sociology and Spanish
Placement 1: Postsecondary National Policy Institute
Placement 2: U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Subcommittee on Education

Yesenia Ayala was born and raised in San Fernando, California. She is the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants and spent part of her childhood in El Salvador with her grandparents. Her experience navigating the Los Angeles public school system as an English Language Learner shaped the way she thinks about education and the effect of education policies in communities of color. Despite the challenges she faced during her primary and secondary education, she had mentors that guided her through her journey. During her senior of high school, Yesenia was awarded the Posse Foundation scholarship, a merit leadership full-tuition scholarship that enabled her to attend her dream school Grinnell College, in the state of Iowa. Moving to Iowa introduced Yesenia to the challenges Latinos face in rural America, and the role higher education plays in empowering these communities.

Yesenia graduated from Grinnell with a double major in Sociology and Spanish, and a concentration in Latin American studies. Throughout her college career, she engaged students around education-inequity issues in the United States through her work with organizations such as Al Éxito in Iowa, Breakthrough in New York, and Belen Educa in Santiago, Chile. These organizations strive to mentor and support underrepresented, low-income youth to cross barriers beyond their socio-economic status and circumstances. Working with the Latino communities in these regions broadened Yesenia’s understanding of education policy in both rural and urban areas and gave her the ability to identify the intersectionality of issues that are present in the field of education such as food insecurity, housing, immigration, etc. Yesenia is passionate about supporting initiatives that help Latino communities move forward and allow them to become self-sustainable.

As a CHCI Public Policy Fellow, Yesenia wants to gain an understanding of the way policy, law, and government function to ensure she is informed of the processes that best help advance education and immigration policy affecting the Latino community. After the fellowship, Yesenia hopes to attend law school and work in the education or immigration field.