Spotlight on Trade: Gabriela Zelaya, Global Education Team Leader

September 28, 2021

Gabriela Zelaya leads ITA’s Global Education Team

This post coincides with the Department of Commerce’s spotlight on National Hispanic Heritage Month.

As leader of the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) Global Education Team, I work passionately to develop programs and strategies to promote the United States as the premier study destination for the world and grow educational service exports. I work alongside ITA trade experts and a host of partners – state governments, industry associations, universities, and others – to design and deliver innovative programs and resources to enable U.S. educational institutions and companies to succeed in global markets.

As a Hispanic woman, and first-generation college graduate, I’ve come a long way in my professional career. While growing up in Southern California, I struggled with cultural stereotypes brought on from being a Hispanic woman from a blue-collar, immigrant family. I knew education was the key to eliminating bias in the world; as such, I dedicated myself to learning and achieving in school. Education is the catalyst that has empowered me and opened doors to numerous opportunities.  

After graduating from two of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the nation, University of California, Riverside (a Hispanic-Serving Institution), and the University of Miami in Florida, with a Political Science degree and master’s in International Studies, these experiences led me to an internship with ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Spain. While there, I utilized my Spanish speaking skills to assist U.S. companies to discuss partnership agreements with distributors.

After interning in Spain, I returned to California and landed my first job at ITA’s field office in Sacramento in 2004. Since then, I have constantly been amazed and inspired by the ethnic diversity of colleagues around me and their commitment to collaboration, creativity, innovation, and equity. Whether working on minority serving export programs, economic empowerment activities for ethnically diverse communities, these colleagues have consistently demonstrated the utmost professionalism and respect for the clients they serve.

From a young age, my passion for supporting the Hispanic community’s economic empowerment has stemmed largely from my own experience growing up and seeing the dearth of Hispanic men and women leaders in America. I know that I am making an impact through my work to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions and businesses succeed globally. As we address the COVID-19 pandemic’s social and economic repercussions – which disproportionately affect minorities and Hispanic businesses – we should keep in mind the positive impact that global business opportunities can have on recovery and resilience.

International markets represent untapped potential for Hispanic-owned businesses. On average, businesses that export earn higher revenues, pay higher wages and are less likely to go out of business.  Going global can help minority businesses build more successful, resilient businesses while supporting themselves, their families, their workers, and their communities. ITA is working in earnest to support minority-owned business and Minority Serving Institutions to export globally.  

For those in the Hispanic community interested in expanding your business through international sales, please take advantage of ITA’s many low-cost services for U.S. small- and medium-size exporters. Go to Trade.gov and check out the growing number of free market intelligence reports from virtually every major market worldwide where the Commercial Service has offices. We also have resources for U.S. education organizations looking for education-specific programs, services or research. I also encourage businesses to find your local U.S. office of the Commercial Service and give our experts there a call to explore your options and brainstorm about best prospects.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor our Hispanic forerunners, but it also is an occasion to take stock of our current moment and create a more equitable future for Hispanics as individuals as economic actors. It is my great privilege to contribute to ITA’s mission and Hispanic economic empowerment efforts.

Gabriela Zelaya (center) and her International Trade Administration colleagues pose for a photo at the 2018 NAFSA: Association of International educators conference in Los Angeles, California.
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