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GSC student adds national award to her long list of achievements
Gainesville State College’s Stephanie Martin Llanes has recently been named to USA Today’s 2010 All-USA Community College Academic Team.

She’s only 22, yet her resume is already packed with awards and achievements.

Help fund a microloan program in Nicaragua: Check.

Travel to Germany as part of Gainesville State College’s award-winning Students in Free Enterprise team for the 2009 Capital Market Summit: Check.

Professionally record an album: Check.

Now, Stephanie Martin Llanes has another accolade to top off the long list of what she’s accomplished in the past few years — she’s been named to USA Today’s 2010 All-USA Community College Academic Team.

"It’s truly a blessing," said Llanes, who also was named a New Century Scholar for Georgia, earning her a scholarship from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and the Coca-Cola Foundation.

Llanes was selected to the All-American team out of 1,500 other applicants from around the country. But there’s one person she’s most happy to share the honor with: Her husband.

It seems smart attracts smart; Juan Llanes won the Coca-Cola scholarship and was named to the USA Today academic team last year, as a student at Gainesville State. Today he’s studying computer science and business at Georgia Institute of Technology. The couple met in the summer of 2008, during her first semester at Gainesville State, at a SIFE event.

"I was happy to just be nominated; I wasn’t expecting to win," she said of being named to the USA Today academic team. "When they told me, I could not hold my tears back."

Llanes is studying sociology and plans to graduate in December. From there, it’s on to a four-year degree at either University of Georgia or Emory University. Then, hopefully, law school — Harvard, to be precise.

That means not only is Llanes pushing herself to do top-notch school work, but she’s also active on campus. She’s vice president of student government, vice president of SIFE ("which is awesome," she says), vice president of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society’s chapter at Gainesville State and, last semester, was president of the Latino student association.

"It’s a challenge. Sometimes it’s really hard, but the main thing is, I push myself to be extremely organized with everything that has to do with school," she said. " ... I really want to go to a good law school, so I have to prepare myself now.

"There’s a lot of sleepless nights, I’m not going to lie. But it’s a lot of fun ... but it’s hard."

Tom Preston, an instructor in the communications department who taught Llanes in one of the first classes she took at Gainesville State, said she was always the student who sat front and center in class.

"She follows directions meticulously and was able to communicate with others effectively. And most of all, (she was) able to lead — the habits that will help anybody in any field that they choose," he said. "I can also say that as a club advisor, she is a leader on campus to the benefit of all around her. ... I was honored to have the privilege of receiving her work and of teaching this remarkable student."

Katie Simmons, a Gainesville State instructor who serves as Llanes’ advisor for the SIFE team, said Llanes wants to score a 100 percent on all her assignments, but not because she wants a perfect grade. Instead, she said, Llanes wants to understand everything, 100 percent.

And this love of learning is even evident in the classes she chose. Rather than test out of her language requirement — Llanes is fluent in both Spanish and English — Llanes chose to take Italian instead.

As a member of the SIFE team, Llanes will be leading the team’s 25-minute presentation this summer in front of a panel of judges who are also Fortune 50 executives. Outside of classes she also is working with kids at the Boys and Girls Clubs, and she’s working to help the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, following a recent speech they gave on campus, by trying to get jewelry they make sold in local businesses.

And as if all this work as a student at Gainesville State College wasn’t enough, Llanes has experience with a whole other world: The music industry.

"When I was 15 ... I went to a singing competition in Atlanta, and I won, and I got signed to a record label," she said. The prize included recording an album, which she did, but the intensity of the workload forced her to leave Flowery Branch High School to homeschool. She ended up graduating from Faith Academy, but the music industry experience helped her realize that she wanted to do music on her own terms.

And that meant going back to school and getting a degree.

"Music is my passion, but I didn’t want to do it the way others wanted me to do it," Llanes said. After starting out as a criminal justice major, Llanes said she’s now certain of her path and the work she needs to do to make it reality.

"Once I started, I hit the ground running. And once I hit sociology — I love it," she said. "I love studying societies and why people are the way they are. And it’s really important for a lawyer."

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