First, Graduation — Next, the World.

Yessenia Gonzalez, ESIA ’16, is the first in her family to go to college. Until her senior year in high school, she wasn’t sure where to apply, let alone how she and her family could afford it. At the advice of her guidance counselor, she visited the George Washington University and, in her words, fell in love. And thanks to the scholarships made possible by the GW community, finances were no longer a barrier for her to attend her top choice school.

“When you’re the first of your family to go to college, there’s a lot of pressure to succeed, to make your family proud, and to set an example for your cousins, nieces, and nephews,” she explains. “The support I received eased the financial burden, so that was one pressure that I didn’t need to worry about.”

Originally from Englewood, New Jersey, Yessenia worked hard for her scholarship. She participated in her high school’s four-year college preparatory program at the honors and AP level, excelling academically. Graduates from her program were expected to enroll in and graduate from top institutions, and GW was among them.

Yessenia Gonzalez, ESIA '16

Yessenia Gonzalez, ESIA ’16

“There are so many stories of people who missed out on opportunities just because they didn’t know scholarships existed,” she says. “Because I got my scholarship, I can be here! And my parents haven’t had to make any more sacrifices.”

Relieved of that financial burden, Yessenia can focus on her coursework, internships, and extracurriculars like the Latin dance team she founded, GW’s Organization for Latino American Students, and the Multicultural Student Services Center. She is also able to pursue her passions, like improving access to education in underserved communities.

“I come from an underserved, under-privileged community where students don’t have a lot of opportunities,” Yessenia says. “I want to start an organization where minority students in low income neighborhoods can find out what the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] is, learn how college applications work, and apply for scholarships.”

But she doesn’t plan on stopping there: “That’s just my goal domestically,” she laughs.

With concentrations in conflict resolution and international development, as well as experience studying abroad in Morocco, Yessenia hopes to bring educational opportunities to children around the world. “Education is social mobility,” she says. “For any development project, you need education at its base.”

With graduation fast approaching in May, she decided to apply to the Peace Corps, which came as quite a shock to her parents.

“My parents, especially as immigrants, want stability for me,” Yessenia says. “They sacrificed so much for me to get here and to do what I’m doing. It was hard for them to hear that I want to go to underdeveloped countries!”

For Yessenia, the Peace Corps is one way she can serve and advocate for communities that need it the most.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot since this is my senior year,” she says. “I didn’t have many expectations for college because I was just happy that I was going, but I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. It’s more than just how good the programs are; it’s also about how at home you feel. I found a home and a community, and I had all of this because of my scholarship.”

Support from the GW community helps make Yessenia’s experience a reality—
give the gift of education this December to support GW students like Yessenia. Learn more about how you can support students at GW by visiting


Author: GW Impact

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