Kennesaw State multidisciplinary grad represents spirit of determination

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 1, 2024

Kim Amaya
Anytime she’s wanted something in her life, Kim Amaya has worked to earn it with little help.

The soon-to-be Kennesaw State University graduate arrived in the United States from El Salvador when she was only 3, and since a tender age, she’s been working to afford herself opportunities her parents didn’t get.

“I started working at a restaurant when I was 14 to save up money, and when I graduated high school, I had to figure things out for myself,” Amaya said. “My dad didn’t have the experience to tell me what my next steps could be.”

Amaya attended Georgia Highlands College for two years, working three full-time jobs to afford the few classes she took per year.

“At first, I just felt clueless,” she said. “I didn’t really know what the end goal was. I was in college, because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do, but I was lost. It took me a while to learn how to study, write papers, handle all the reading — it was a struggle for me. But somehow, I did it.”

Since transferring to KSU in 2022 to study modern language and culture, Amaya has continued to work a full-time job and a part-time job, or up to three part-time, as she looks forward to a teaching career. Much of her work has taken place at Osborne High School in Marietta, the same school she graduated from in 2016, and the one she said set her on the path to success.

With a chuckle, Amaya recalled feeling like she’d landed her first “big girl job” when she was hired on at Osborne. She felt like part of a team, and she was still given the flexibility to continue her education as she worked. Being so immersed in education made her realize her passion for it. That passion for education and her community led her to volunteer opportunities at local elementary schools and leadership roles at her church.

But Amaya said it was a conversation with a professor that played integral role in keeping her on the path to her upcoming graduation from KSU. Arturo Matute Castro, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, had Amaya in his class in Fall 2022 and recalls that conversation, reflecting fondly on it still as a “turning point” for Amaya.

It was through that conversation he observed Amaya’s determination, intellect and wisdom beyond her years. Matute Castro said he noticed her struggling with confidence in the quality of her work and balancing school pressure with her many job and financial responsibilities. He reassured her that she was exceeding expectations already, and that the challenges she was facing were typical of a hardworking college student like her.

“I told her to give my advice some thought before she made a decision,” he said. “She not only did a great job in the class, but she also committed to seeing her degree to the end. There is a kind of hope and enthusiasm that she carries with her that is very special and very hard to teach. What she has is self-made. All the merit goes to her.”

For her part, Amaya said that conversation is one of the main reasons that next month she will become the first in her family to graduate college ¾ with a 4.0 GPA to boot. Amaya is currently finishing student teaching in Cobb County and said she looks forward to working with Latino immigrant students in the district to put college on their radar and provide the educational guidance they so often need.

On top of her plans to teach Spanish, she hopes to begin a master’s program in educational leadership during the summer and one day become a school administrator.

“My dad always told me that education was the only thing he was going to leave me behind, and that’s fueled me a lot through this,” she said. “I want to provide a good life for my family, and I want my students to realize they can accomplish what they want. I want them to see that I could come from another country and work hard and that they can do it too.”

– Story by Thomas Hartwell

Photos by Matt Yung

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit