Two Aiken Technical College students, named to the 2011 Phi Theta Kappa S.C. Academic All-State Team, put family at the heart of their career goals. Criminal justice student Cara Copeland and nursing student Heather Stokes don't just have exceptional grades; they also balance the roles of mother, full-time student, employee and extracurricular involvement. Copeland, 30, is pursuing an associate degree with a 4.0 grade point average. Her long-term goal is to counsel inmates, teaching them life skills that can reverse their destructive life paths. Copeland had an abusive childhood and, after a teenage wake-up call in the form of boot camp, she knew her future would be helping people like her. "Had I not grown from that experience, I would not be the person I am today," Copeland said. She is a single mother of 6- year-old Leah, who keeps her mom on the degree path. Copeland's drive to instill confidence in her daughter only propels her to succeed more. "In Leah's 6-year-old eyes, if Mommy can do this, so can she," she said. Copeland is also active in ATC's student government association, coordinating a holiday toy drive this year for ATC single parents and their children. She is president of ATC's Phi Theta Kappa chapter, intern at Regent Security in Augusta and recipient of the WSI-SRS Criminal Justice scholarship. "For the first time in my life, I have found something I'm good at," Copeland said. "It's solely mine." Heather Stokes, 34, is in her final semester as an ATC nursing student. She also uses family as a driving force in her career. In 2000 she gave birth to twin boys, Brandon and Blake, who were born 15 weeks premature with cerebral palsy. It was an around-the-clock routine taking care of them as babies and growing up: doctor appointments, medicines, physical therapy and just being there as the frail twin boys grew up. While witnessing their medical care, she was inspired to pursue nursing after working in the mortgage industry. Stokes started ATC's nursing program in the fall of 2008. Since then, she has managed a full class load, worked as a patient care technician and nurse extern at University Hospital, spent time with a loving family, which includes 5-year-old son, Chip, her husband and 20-year-old stepdaughter, Brittani, Tragedy hit the family last August, when Brandon died, but Stokes continues to persevere. "I started the nursing program for the twins, and I am finishing for him," she said. In November, Stokes began serving on MCG's Patient Advisory Board in November. She maintains a 3.77 GPA and could not succeed academically without the support of her family, she said. Stokes and Copeland are among 20 technical college students in South Carolina to earn Phi Theta Kappa All-State Academic honors and are now eligible for the All-USA Community College Academic Team. They will officially be recognized by the S.C. Technical College System on March 15 at a State House ceremony in Columbia.