Yesenia Ayala

Public Policy Fellow
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute

Yesenia Ayala graduated this past May from Grinnell with a double major in Sociology and Spanish with 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.


During her time at Grinnell, Yesenia was awarded with the White House Champions of Change Award under President Obama and was named a Truman scholar representing the state of California. Among her accomplishments, Yesenia represented the undergraduate category for the 2018 Diversity Abroad Award and was named the 2017 Global Citizen of the Year by IES Abroad for her work nationally and internationally that advocated for access to education to vulnerable communities. This August, Yesenia started her public policy fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and hopes her nine months in D.C. will give her a well-rounded understanding of policy and the way our government functions.

Read below to find out a bit more about Yesenia:

Where have you studied or lived abroad?

Yes, I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile through the IES Santiago- Politics, Social Justice, and Language program.

What is your favorite place you've traveled and why?

My favorite place has actually been the northern part of Chile in the Atacama Desert. The people were amazing as well as the beautiful geography that Chile possesses.

What is the one item you can't travel without?

I cannot travel without my camera. It is the only item that can help me capture an image of beautiful scenarios and events.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to dance salsa, merengue, cumbia you name it!

Best piece of advice you've ever received?

To follow your heart. I think that following my heart has always been difficult for me as I tend to overthink things, yet whenever I do, that is when I thrive the most.

Tell us one thing people probably don't know about you.

I love the outdoor! I love hiking and going on adventures to national parks.

Me in the Atacama Desert!