It's no wonder Ana-Cecilia Alvarez, BSBA '11, has always been drawn to international business exploration. Raised by a Spanish father and an American mother, she grew up living in both the U.S. and Madrid, Spain.
Now Alvarez—Ceci to her friends—will be putting that interest to use through a ten-month Fulbright Binational Business Internship grant in Mexico City, beginning in August. According to the AU Office of Merit Awards, Alvarez is the first student from the university to receive this particular grant and is one of just twelve U.S. grantees selected for the program this year.
Fulbright as Fusion
Unlike traditional Fulbright scholarships, where scholars typically teach English in a foreign country or pursue an independent research project, those in the Binational Business Internship program work for Mexican companies and nonprofits in the financial services sector.
"The middle class in Mexico is growing at an unprecedented pace," Alvarez said. "There's a new generation of people who need financial services and education, and I can't wait to be a part of that."
To Alvarez, the Fulbright internship is an opportunity to combine her previous work histories at the United Nations Foundation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enter into the international financial services sector.
"I've gone down the nonprofit path and the government oversight path and have seen each have their limitations," she said. "While both types of organizations often have the same goal, one is usually limited by funding and the other by bureaucratic processes. I think there is a better way to serve consumers directly."
And that way, she thinks, is to offer better financial tools that can be easily understood and used by consumers.
Knowledge is Power
Alvarez's desire to empower individuals dates back to the Washington Initiative course she took at Kogod. For the course, students partner with local nonprofit D.C. Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign to help low-income tax filers.
"A lot of the people I met during that program had financial hardships, faced discrimination, and had a long history of being taken advantage of, especially Spanish-speaking immigrants," Alvarez recalled. "They just wanted to pay their taxes and feel productive; they just needed a little help and guidance."
Since that course, Alvarez has continued to volunteer as a filing assistant for Spanish speakers.
"Right now, I would say, my career goal is to better serve Hispanic consumers by offering innovative products, including financial planning and services in the marketplace," she said. "I believe the Fulbright in Mexico will allow me to both contribute my knowledge and further learn about this exciting industry."