According to her employee name tag, Kthi Aung, 19,  is a “future nurse.”

In the meantime, she has a lot of other titles: Chick-Fil-A employee, nursing student, Thai refugee and breadwinner.

Thanks to a recommendation from her employer, she’s closer to becoming a nurse than she was a few months ago: Aung was one of 12 Chick-Fil-A scholarship winners awarded $25,000 for her education this year.

“Being a nurse -- that’s my dream and it’s been my goal since I was younger,” she said. “I want to help my people and other people around me.”

Since graduating from Rock Island High School in December 2017, Aung has tried to take two classes each semester at Black Hawk. After her father hurt his back and lost the ability to work, she became the sole provider for her family. That burden was compounded with problems with her FAFSA application, and she was concerned she would have to quit college for a while.

“I’m paying for my school,” she said. “I’m paying with my own money.”  

“She’s been working here about six months. She started with us through a contact through World Relief,” said Christy Oyon, HR director. “She, from the beginning, stood out as being a leader. She would figure out rides for other kids we had hired at the same time. She’s a super hard worker, already training other people when she was new.”

Jeremy Tatman, the owner and operator of the Davenport Chick-Fil-A, said he saw Aung as a “natural leader.”

“Her heart for others and for her family is amazing. We asked what she wanted to become when she gets out of school, because we put it on the nametags,” he said. “  … She wants to go back to Thailand to help her people. She’s always wanted to be a nurse. She wants to provide better care for people.”

While Tatman said they’ve had employees win one of the nearly 6,000 scholarships for $2,500 “almost every year,” Aung was the first to win the $25,000 scholarship.

This year, there were around 11,000 applicants.

For Tatman, it’s important to provide opportunities for refugees and students.

“We want to be one of the best places in the Quad-Cities for refugees to work,” he said. “ … We know that we’re often a transition job. Our goal, though, is that they’ll never leave laterally. We want to equip kids to get those dream jobs. We want kids to discover their strengths.”

While Oyon and Tatman clearly think leadership is one of Aung’s strengths, she doesn’t see it that way.

“Most of the time, I just try to help other people,” she said. “I don’t really feel like a leader. I just try to help people when they need help.”



Quad-City Times education reporter.