Pay It Forward
The sights, sounds, and smells of Street Fair probably evoke more memories for Katty Kaunang, BEd ’16, than most alumni. During her senior year, she was in charge of running it—just one of several campus jobs she held while earning her degree in family and human services. Today, she’s returned to give some advice to first-year PathwayOregon scholars who are in the same boat she was in just four years ago.
As she walks down 13th Avenue—recalling fond memories, checking out the vendors, stopping often to greet old friends—she seems like a fish back in water.
“I miss being on campus,” says the first-generation college student. “My schedule was always from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. I appreciate the opportunity that the UO offered me, and am grateful for all the student jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities I had.”
Katty Kaunaung in the HEDCO education building on campus
Each opportunity led to others, she explains. For Kaunang, building networks and working with professionals turned out to be more important than the degree. “All those experiences will lead you to what you really want to do,” she tells the new students. “You never know who you’re going to meet.” She also tells them to manage their time. Use a planner and a to-do list. Prioritize. “Make the most of it,” she says. “Use the resources that are available. Once you graduate, you’ll miss it. Somebody is paying for your education. You don’t want to waste it.” She starts by telling the PathwayOregon freshmen about her circuitous, four-year path, the mentors she discovered, and the organizations she joined—the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, the Asian and Pacific Islander Strategies Group, the Student Alumni Association, and the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, to name just a few.
Kaunang lives in Beaverton, where she’s working part-time and applying to graduate schools. She hopes to start working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy next fall, and eventually parlay her love for campus life into a career helping other first-generation and minority college students.
She also volunteers for Trio, a federal program that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At Century High School, her other alma mater, Kaunang helps kids apply for college. “I’m just letting them know that college is possible. I don’t want them to go back to ‘My parents can’t afford it, so I’ll just work a minimum-wage job.’ It’s about breaking the cycle and not following your parents. Just because you’re a low-income minority doesn’t mean you can’t go to college.”
Kaunang has a few scattered, vivid memories of Surabaya, the Indonesian city where she lived until she was seven. The heat. Chicken satay from street vendors. Strict grade school teachers.
After her family of six moved to Redlands, California, her parents struggled to support the family, often working two or three jobs at a time—Pizza Hut, warehouse work, a retirement home kitchen. Kaunang was often their interpreter, translating English as well as explaining cultural nuances—a role she would continue well into her college years. In their cramped apartment, she shared a bed with her twin sister, Kally, and all four siblings shared one room.
Her family later moved to Beaverton and eventually bought a home of their own. But when she was 15, her dad left. They lost the house, and it was back to a cramped apartment. College was always a distant dream—financially, and also in terms of what she believed was possible. “I didn’t know about college, because no one in my family talked about it,” she says. “But a Trio advisor told me about it. The program gave me the courage to apply and helped me find an institution that was best for me.”
Thanks to Trio—and a PathwayOregon scholarship—Kaunang found her way to the University of Oregon. In addition to the financial support, PathwayOregon advisors and other mentors helped her navigate college life, overcome academic and personal obstacles, and finish her degree. “Without Pathway I would not have gone to college and would have continued the cycle of working minimum-wage jobs like my parents,” says Kaunang. “PathwayOregon removed the barriers of the financial burden, but—more important—it removed the barrier of college access and success.”