Khath was born in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand, and she and her family immigrated to the United States with only the clothes on their backs. At the age of 13, she found herself adrift in a strange country, surrounded by people speaking a new language she didn’t fully understand.
Khath studied hard but struggled to learn English. “I knew some words, but when people spoke, it didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “It was hard to find the right words. It felt like I was trapped, trapped with no way to express my feelings.”
Luckily, Khath found support and began to make progress with the help of mentors in her community in East St. Paul. “I was able to release my feelings and anger with teachers and social workers who understood my situation,” she said.
Khath went on to seek leadership roles in a number of organizations, from The Boys and Girls Club in St. Paul and Rochester to the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota. In 1996 she was even selected to carry the Olympic Torch for the Atlanta Olympic Games.
“Each leadership experience gave me a challenge and something to work for,” she said.
Khath enrolled in the Social Work program at Winona State University-Rochester in 2000, around the time she started her family. She held on to the dream of becoming a social worker, but her three children became her priority.
“I had to put my educational life on hold, but now I am ready to pursue my dream of becoming a great social worker,” said Khath. “I have enjoyed a wonderful family, and I look forward to graduating from Winona State University with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work.”
Over the course of 15 years, Khath has remained dedicated to her pursuit. So dedicated, in fact, that when the army assigned her husband to duty at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, she continued to attend her final class at WSU-Rochester, flying in on Fridays when the class met in person.
All of Khath’s personal life experiences have brought her to this moment. “I am majoring in social work so I can one day inspire the Cambodian people, especially women and children, the same way social workers inspired me as I worked my way through American culture as a refugee kid here in America,” she said. “Based on my experiences, I believe I can be a strong and competent social worker to my community and the younger generation.”