This is the last of a series of 20 profiles of The Gazette’s Best and Brightest Class of 2018.

Colorado Springs Early Colleges junior Yulia Shtanko will not only graduate high school a year early, she will walk away with an Associate of Science degree from Pikes Peak Community College.

Shtanko will attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in the fall, but unlike other first-year college students, she will already have 94 college credits – the lion’s share earned in only two years as a high school student.

“She has undertaken among the most rigorous course loads I have seen in my four years as an advisor,” said Joe Pritchett, an academic advisor at Colorado Springs Early Colleges. “Her motivation is off the charts, as is her ability.”

Early Colleges was the first high school in the Pikes Peak region to allow a student to earn an associate degree while still in high school and at no cost to the student, according to the school’s website.

Shtanko credits much of her motivation to her life experiences.

Born to humble circumstance in Kyrgyzstan, Shtanko discovered a world of opportunity when her mother married a U.S. serviceman.

“My home country put my life into perspective, and taught me that opportunities can change someone’s life,” she said. “Knowing that, I want to give individuals a chance by saving or improving their lives.”

Her father’s career in the Air Force has taken the family from Kyrgyzstan to Japan, to Germany and finally to Colorado Springs when Shtanko’s dad was assigned to Peterson Air Force Base.

During the family’s six years in Germany, Shtanko was able to shadow a doctor at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which served as a stopover for military personnel seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was quite young, but the impact was quite significant,” she said. “I saw firsthand how a soldier’s life would be forever changed because of his or her sacrifices.”

Afterward, Shtanko resolved to become a doctor.

First, she plans to major in biochemistry and minor in psychology while at UCCS. She would like to go on to medical school in San Francisco, she said.

But Shtanko is aware of how challenging that dream will be to achieve.

“I know there is some emotional growth that needs to happen before the rigors of medical school,” she said.

The final stroke of Shtanko’s master plan is to join the Air Force and become a military surgeon.

“Military families and members dedicate a significant portion of their lives to our country; therefore, I want to do everything I can in return,” she said. “It would be a great honor to protect those who protect us.”

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