Elevating underrepresented voices in education policymaking
With support from influential teachers and advocates at her magnet high school in Los Angeles, Yesenia Ayala had prospered as a student and was eager to accept a full-tuition scholarship at a highly selective college. There was just one problem: All of the schools she was considering were far from home, and she hadn’t told her parents about her plans. And when she did, “the conversation didn’t go well,” Ayala recalls.
In her family’s Salvadoran culture, women didn’t leave the family, so navigating that conflict while also being dedicated to pursuing her dreams set Ayala on a path to help other first-generation students succeed. “Some people choose what they want to do, but education chose me,” she says.
First at Grinnell College, where she mobilized community engagement on behalf of Latinx students in the region’s small towns, and then in a series of government roles in Washington, D.C., Ayala has grown her understanding of the complexities inherent in developing education policy. “People making policy decisions often don’t have the experiences of the students being served,” she says. “I want to ensure that underrepresented students are at the table when the policy is written.”
Recently named a 2021 Knight-Hennessy Scholar, Ayala believes she found “the perfect program” in the GSE’s master’s offering in Policy, Organization and Leadership Studies (POLS), which she begins this fall. “It ties together all of the corners of the triangle required to make good policy.”