Emerging CMC leaders honored by Obama Foundation

Alejandra Vazquez Baur '17 and Ivanna Morales Mercado.

For the past two years, Claremont McKenna College students and alumni have impressed the Obama Foundation and earned honors as emerging leaders through their dedication to public service and a more inclusive democracy.

CMC junior Ivanna Morales Mercado ’25 received a 2023-2025 Voyager Scholarship for Public Service from the Foundation, becoming the second CMCer to earn the award since it was established last year, following Michael Gadinis ’24, a Government major with a concentration in Public Law, who was named to the inaugural 2022-2024 cohort. The scholarship was created by former President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, in partnership with Brian Chesky, Airbnb co-founder and CEO.

Ivanna Morales Mercado ’25.

Ivanna Morales Mercado ’25

In addition, CMC alumna Alejandra Vázquez Baur ’17 was chosen to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Obama Foundation Leaders USA program. The new Leaders USA program builds on the Obama Foundation’s work to support “values-driven changemakers,” offering opportunities for 24- to 45-year-olds to acquire new skills and tools to accelerate change in their communities, “with a focus on strengthening institutions across sectors toward a more inclusive, participatory democracy.”

Their selections embody CMC’s mission to prepare students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions, as both of the programs are highly competitive, each inviting only 100 emerging leaders from across the nation.

“The Voyager Scholarship positions students for great success in fellowships and awards, scholarships, graduate study, and more; and the Leaders USA program is the next stage, the ‘big brother’ of the Voyager Scholarship,” said Brian Davidson ’08, interim director of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum and director of fellowships advising at CMC. “I think it certainly speaks to CMC students’ public service missions that we have had two Voyager scholars in a row, while the Leaders USA selection shows how our alumni are going on to do amazing things.”

Voyager Scholarship

The Voyager Scholarship’s benefits include up to $50,000 in financial aid, a $10,000 stipend and free Airbnb housing for summer travel, participation in an annual summit, and invitations to an ongoing speaker series, providing access to a network of public service leaders.

At CMC, Morales Mercado is majoring in Environmental Analysis and Sustainability and the Built Environment. The Kirkland, Wash. native outlined her public service vision: “I plan to focus on discovering and implementing strategies for food sovereignty to improve food security. I believe in developing sustainable community resiliency through producing and consuming local food that is nourishing to the body and mind.”

As a Creative Works Fellow with the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at CMC this past summer, Morales Mercado explored the “colonial historical legacies that define today’s global food system” and introduced “food sovereignty and zero-waste cooking strategies as remedial solutions to the injustice in today’s global food system.” Over the course of 12 weeks, she engaged in a self-directed project that culminated in an educational cookbook, De-Colonializing Food: A Foodie’s Guide to Colonial Legacies and Their Subversions.

“I’m immensely proud of Ivanna for her achievements,” Davidson said. “I know that Ivanna is really dedicated to environmental justice and food sovereignty, and she’s well-equipped to tackle those challenges. It’s also really important that she will be connected with 99 other young student leaders around the country who will inspire each other.”

Gadinis is in his second year with the inaugural cohort, working to support survivors of sexual violence on the individual, community, and institutional levels. In line with this work, he is co-president of the CMC Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. He is also a student programmer for CMC’s Gender and Sexuality Studies sequence and a member of CMC’s Model UN travel team.

Obama Leaders USA

According to the Obama Foundation, Obama Leaders aim to drive systems-level change across sectors and issues and have at least three years of demonstrated impact. The program offers a values-driven leadership curriculum, action labs focused on strengthening democratic institutions and culture in the United States, community groups, and one-on-one support. Participants will also have the opportunity to engage with President Obama, leadership coaches, and subject matter experts.

Alejandra Vázquez Baur ’17.

Alejandra Vázquez Baur ’17.

Vázquez Baur, a granddaughter of immigrant farmworkers and native of Santa Fe, N.M., works as an educational equity and immigration justice advocate in New York City. As a Century Foundation fellow, she manages the Bridges Collaborative, championing school integration. In 2022, she co-founded the National Newcomer Network, which brings together teachers, researchers, and advocates to address newcomer student inequity in K–12 schools.

At CMC, Vázquez Baur was an International Relations major, with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean, and winner of the Dolores Huerta Leadership Recognition Award. She was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, and some of her leadership roles included serving as founder and co-president of CMC’s Latinx heritage organization ¡Mi Gente!, as presidential advisor of the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College, and as a CARE (Civility, Access, Resources, and Expression) Center Fellow. In addition to studying abroad in Buenos Aires, she was a communications and translation intern with Save the Children Peru and an International Visitor Leadership Program intern with the Santa Fe Council on Foreign Relations.

“Since leaving the classroom, I have worked in community with students, educators, and advocates to shape policies that deliver on the promise of educational excellence and opportunity for all students in our public schools, especially low-income students of color and immigrant youth,” Vázquez Baur said.

“Being an inaugural Obama Foundation USA Leader has offered me invaluable opportunities to expand my impact through coaching and skill building alongside a cohort of exceptional values-based leaders from across the country. I’m humbled to be an Obama Leader, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities and support I received at CMC that shaped my vision and tenacity for equity and justice.”

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