A 17-year-old with plans to own her own KFC store one day beat out thousands of other Illawarra students to snare a top award.
Nina Bruce, who finished her HSC at Five Islands Secondary College this year, was named the best school-based trainee in the Illawarra at a recent ceremony in Wollongong.
But there was a bigger prize to come - the Illawarra Vocational Education Student of the Year, where Ms Bruce beat out 2800 other students in the region.
"I wasn't expecting to win the overall award," Ms Bruce said, "that wasn't my goal. I was just trying to win the traineeship of the year.
"When the lady who was presenting started describing the award I thought, 'that's what they said for my first award'. Then l look over to my boss and she grabs my arm and I look at my mum and she's tearing up.
"I'm thinking, 'no way'. And then when they said my name I started crying."
After being home-schooled from Years 7 to 9 and being an only child, Ms Bruce wanted to socialise more and so opted to attend Five Islands Secondary College from Year 10.
As well as studying for the HSC, she had on-the-job vocational experience working at KFC as part of her schooling.
"At first I was just on the front counter but as you get more experienced you go into drive-through and then I just recently got trained as a cook as well," she said.
"Then yesterday I did my first management shift so I'm actually becoming a manager within two months."
Now that she has finished school, Ms Bruce has plans to stay with KFC.
"Hopefully, [I can] maybe become a store manager or store owner one day," she said.
"Owning my own store one day in the future would be amazing."
The college's careers advisor Mark Nicholl said it was a significant award.
"There's 2800 VET students in the Illawarra and Nina was the best one," Mr Nicholl said.
"I say it's almost like the vocational equivalent of getting the top ATAR in the Illawarra."