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Keyla Ayala

“My story at Columbus State has been full of progress, opportunities, and blessings,” said Keyla Ayala. The Caracas, Venezuela native graduated Dec. 18 with an Associate of Arts degree, as well as a wealth of new friends and potential business contacts.

Ayala came to the U.S. from Venezuela with the goal of getting her education and building a better life for herself and her family back home. She has an aunt who lives in Columbus and encouraged her to explore attending Columbus State.

“I didn’t know anybody and my English was very basic. Looking to be more active on campus, I went to the Student Engagement and Leadership Department to find volunteering events to attend,” Ayala said.

She joined the Student Ambassadors, and rose to become the program’s coordinator and orientation leader, and is now a student worker in the Admissions Department. Through the Student Ambassadors, Phi Theta Kappa, the PONO Diversity Learning Community, and other campus activities, Ayala made a group of friends she considers her second family. She also created the Latin American Student Association (LASA) because she saw the need to unite and help the Latino community at Columbus State.

“The thing I love most about Columbus state is the relationships you build – with other students, with the faculty and with the staff. Everyone is so helpful. They work with you until they have your problem solved.” Keyla has used many of the college’s student services including tutoring, academic advising and the writing center.

As an international student, Ayala must maintain her course load to stay in the country. But economic woes in her native Venezuela made it hard to finance her education and provide for her 13-year-old brother back home.

Again, resources were available to help. She obtained a Wolfe Associated Crossing the Finish Line Scholarship and a Foundation Support Fund Scholarship from the Columbus State Foundation, the college’s fundraising arm.

“The dream of graduating is coming true because the Foundation believed in me. Walking the stage on Dec. 18 would not be possible without this generous support, and for that I will be forever grateful,” Ayala said.

And another connection led to another job. A chance meeting with librarian Tracy Kemp led to an internship with HER Realtors, an important step in her career in marketing.

Ayala’s next goal: transfer to Franklin University and obtain a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Finance. Columbus State has a “3+1” program with Franklin, where students can take three years of classes at the community college, then transfer to Franklin to finish a bachelor’s degree.

“To all current Columbus State students, my story is proof that when you work hard you are rewarded. My call to action is to be active on campus, don’t be shy to share your story and use the resources on campus to help you succeed,” Ayala said.