Evan Avila’s goal is to work on Capitol Hill, advocating for immigrant communities’ access to financial security and economic equality. He has now been recognized as a finalist for the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, affirming his path to a career of leadership in public service.
The Marshall Scholarship is awarded annually to up to 50 students from the United States to pursue graduate study at a university in the United Kingdom, following an intensive application and interview process. Avila, a Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar majoring in economics and political science at UMBC, was selected as a finalist for his long record of public service as well as his experience developing economic policy proposals. At the final stage, Avila was not among the students chosen to receive the scholarship. However, he still plans to pursue graduate study in Washington D.C. next fall as a Harry S. Truman Scholar.
How does UMBC identify students to nominate for this prestigious scholarship? “We prioritize a student’s ability to demonstrate strong potential as a change agent in their chosen field, based on their leadership and intellectual skills,” explains April Householder, director of undergraduate research and prestigious scholarships. “Evan emerged because of his exemplary commitment to public service, and his ability to work with diverse groups of individuals. We felt that he has great potential as a policymaker and social change agent.”
Avila is the fourth UMBC recipient of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship. He was chosen in the spring of 2019 for one of just sixty scholar positions out of 840 candidates nationwide.
The award grants Avila $30,000 toward a competitive graduate school of his choice. In addition, scholars gain access to continuous leadership development programs, such as the Truman Scholars Leadership Week and the Summer Institute. Scholars also benefit from mentorship by top leaders in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, public and private educational institutions, and advocacy organizations. Following a master’s degree, Avila plans to pursue a J.D., to specialize in taxation and employee benefits law.
Building a public service career
Avila has dedicated his time at UMBC to developing his knowledge of financial systems and applying his studies to work with people in need of financial services and expertise. This includes years of service with UMBC’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Avila recently shared, “My driving ambition is to combine the intersections of financial services, taxation, and employee benefits” to address the significant challenge of wealth inequality faced by workers, families, and students.
Laura Hussey, associate professor of political science and director of the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar program, has witnessed Avila’s longstanding commitment to serving communities. Hussey is quick to point out that it is not just Evan’s résumé, but also his character, that exemplifies Sondheim Scholar ideals. His time spent at the Esperanza Center, which provides educational, legal, medical, and other services to immigrants in Baltimore, is a meaningful example of his work.
“In choosing the Esperanza Center for his Sondheim Scholar service-learning, Evan sought to leave his comfort zone and address his complicated relationship with his family’s immigrant heritage,” explains Hussey. “Though intimidated by the one evening per week he would spend there, given his limited Spanish proficiency and tutor training, Evan described his service at Esperanza Center as ‘truly joyous’ and a ‘deeply personal and spiritual experience.’”
Avila has also been recognized for his work on retirement planning for today’s young adults. In June 2018 he won the iOME challenge with the policy proposal Rethinking Millennial Retirement: Policy Recommendations for a Gig Economy. Cindy Hounsell is president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), which sponsored the competition. She shared, “We are impressed by Mr. Avila’s response to the more complicated challenges and deterrents millennials face in preparing for their future retirement.”
UMBC has a strong tradition of supporting applicants for the Marshall Scholarship, as well as other prestigious awards. Loren Siebert ‘93, computer science, earned his master’s degree in computer science at the University of Manchester as a Marshall Scholar. He then invented LinguaStep, a language learning software, and is now a technical advisor to entrepreneurs in San Francisco.
Naomi Mburu ‘18, chemical engineering, was UMBC’s second student selected for a Marshall Scholarship, in 2017, but she declined the award to become UMBC’s first Rhodes Scholar. Mburu is currently pursuing a doctorate in nuclear fusion at Oxford. She offered Avila advice in preparation for his Marshall interview.
Avila looks forward to continuing that tradition after his graduation in the spring, offering support to future UMBC students who are reaching for their dreams.
Banner image: Avila at his internship at the United States Census Bureau. Photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 unless otherwise noted.