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Top Lanier Tech student Nowakowski gets to compete for new car
Karen Nowakowski, center, receive's Lanier Technical College's Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership at a Lions Club luncheon on Tuesday. With Karen are her nominating instructor, Tom Gaddie, right, and fellow award nominee Tia Renee Moody, left, and Moddy's nominating instructor Joan Ivey, rear. - photo by Tom Reed


Tom Gaddie, a fire science technology instructor for Lanier Technical College, talks about why he nominated Karen Nowakowski for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership.

Karen Nowakowski had been questioning why she had to take math and psychology classes on her way to completing her fire science degree at Lanier Technical College’s Winder campus.

Then, as a firefighter with the Atlanta Fire Department, she helped respond to a March 2007 bus accident on Interstate 75/85 involving the Bluffton University baseball team. The wreck killed four players and two others aboard.

"At that moment, I knew I would never question the education I received at Lanier Tech," she said in a speech Tuesday to the Gainesville Lions Club. "... I experienced all the things I was learning in school.

"At that moment, the bond with my husband and son became extremely strong, the faith and admiration that I had for my fellow crew workers was reaffirmed, and I am proud that I have an education from Lanier Tech."

For her devotion to her studies, the college awarded her the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership, recognizing her as the school’s top student for 2008.

She and three other finalists were recognized at a luncheon sponsored by the Gainesville Lions Club at the Gainesville Civic Center.

The other students honored were Monique Beale of the practical nursing program, Tia Renee Moody of the business and office technology program and Maria Hadavi of the early childhood education program.

Each year, GOAL winners are selected at each of the state’s 33 technical colleges, as well at the four Board of Regents colleges with technical education divisions.

The Lions Club and the Lanier Tech Student Government Association sponsor the program locally.

GOAL winners from each campus will compete in Atlanta in May.

The state winner receives a new car provided by Chevrolet, the statewide corporate sponsor of Georgia’s GOAL program.

A screening committee of administrators at the Oakwood-based Lanier Tech selected the four semifinalists from a list of students nominated by their instructors.

Tom Gaddie, the fire science program director for the college, nominated Nowakowski for the award. He teaches her courses in the fire science management and leadership degree program.

"She’s an outstanding student. She’s a self-starter. She’s very enthusiastic about learning, and I thought she would do very well within (the GOAL program)," Gaddie said.

Once instructors submit their nominations, a panel of area business, civic and industry leaders interview and evaluate the students to select the overall winner.

Nowakowski, 32, said she was proud to receive the award.

She said she knows the other finalists.

"They are all equally fantastic, so for me, it’s just an honor that (the judges) were able to pick out one out of all of us," she said.

Nowakowski said she can’t wait to compete at state.

"I believe in this program, so I hope I can portray that to the judges when I go down to Atlanta."