GRADUATE SPOTLIGHT >>
Stephanie Llanes: Using her talents for the greater good
By Dena J. Smith | Emory Report | May 10, 2013
Before arriving at Emory, graduating senior Stephanie Llanes knew where she wanted an academic career to take her, she just wasn't sure exactly which path to take to get there.
From the beginning, law school was the goal. But as a non-traditional student — a married transfer student and the first in her family to attend college — it took awhile to find her way.
Llanes graduated from high school and worked two years before taking classes at a Georgia community college, earning an associate degree and transferring to Emory. That's when things began to fall into place.
"I wanted to go to law school, (but) didn't know which way to go," Llanes says. "I thought I would major in criminal justice, and I didn't like that, so I changed to political science, and I kind of didn't like it but I stayed with it, because I thought that was something I felt I had to do.
"I took a sociology class my second semester and it just sparked something in me," she says.
"It was like academic passion – looking at how societies work. And after that I kept taking sociology classes and fell in love with it, so I changed my major. And then I took a women's studies class and that sparked my interest. It's very interesting to study them together."
This month, Llanes graduates from Emory College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in sociology and women's studies, with a particular focus on race and ethnicity — a focus she hopes to carry with her when she begins studies at the Seattle University School of Law this summer.
She is considering studying civil rights or immigration law, "definitely something with social justice and law," Llanes says.
Excelling as a leader
Taking on the challenge of law school should be familiar ground for the 25-year-old Emory senior. During her time on campus, she has excelled academically and as a student leader, preparing herself to emerge as a social justice scholar with varying interests related to human and civil rights.
One of four students named to the College Council Hall of Fame based on her leadership and service, Llanes was recognized for the work she did to help expand Emory's annual State of Race forum to a week-long social justice event focused on race, culture, diversity and human rights.
In addition, Llanes' passion and ability to connect faculty, staff, students and alumni has proven an education in itself, evidence that her budding leadership skills have already paid off.
"Stephanie has presented and written and acted on various social change initiatives that were tough to address," says Matt Garrett, director of student life in the Office of Student Leadership and Service.
"Her academic pursuits have required her to think critically and to possess a work ethic that we have rarely seen," he adds. "To say that she has excelled academically would sell her accomplishments short. Not only does her 3.97 grade point average represent the best of the best, but her engagement with her peers, faculty members, and administrators illustrates that she translates theory to practice in a way few students do."
A community engager
During her two years on campus, Llanes has chalked up an impressive resume of community engagement, serving as College Council vice president and vice president for communications, an orientation leader, student hardship fund committee member, sociology department mentor, pre-law society publicity chair, dance marathon recruitment chair, Coca-Cola intern, and an intern for Hartman Private Law LLC.
She was also pivotal in launching a student coalition, Change at Emory, in response to last fall's controversy surrounding The Dooley Show that involves students from mixed backgrounds uniting to recommend "a change at Emory for a better Emory," she says.
Her time spent at community college prepared her to step into those roles. "I learned that getting involved is important and it does help your college experience," says Llanes, who became involved with the Latino Student Association and student government at Emory.
"Being involved is like my family," she adds. "That's how I created my space, and it was a way to give back. Community college taught me that, so when I came to Emory, I knew I wanted to do the same thing."
Becoming involved at Emory required initiative. She credits the mentorship of Director of Residence Life Andy Wilson for helping her find the way.
"My first semester I was getting acclimated, and it was a little bit hard," she says. "But I had a really good professor who sat me down and said, ‘This is what you can do'."
"I knew I wasn't going to live on campus, I knew I wasn't going to be a part of Greek life, so I had to form my own community and I knew through student leadership, I was going to be able to do that," she recalls.
Through engagement at Emory, Llanes has found lessons both in and outside of the classroom. "Coming into college, I thought leadership was different than what it is," she says. "I came in thinking you have to be at the top of the organization, you have to make sure everything gets done.
"I've learned that leadership is not just about having the title or having the position, it's more about collaboratively working with people to get to an end goal ... to use titles and positions to the benefit everyone."