Marlena Collins: A World Traveler Finding New Horizons

Growing up, Georgia State junior Marlena Collins says her family’s philosophy was “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” Her family took every opportunity to discover new places and new cultures — frequently with Marlena’s grandmother along for the ride. Partly through those trips, Marlena says she and her grandmother forged an especially close bond.

Marlena’s grandmother died last May after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, but while her short-term memory may have faded, the long-term memories of their family adventures never did. “Even when she was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, she could still tell you ‘That’s the Mona Lisa’ or ‘I remember the view from the Eiffel Tower,’” Marlena recalls.

That special relationship inspired Marlena to pursue an unusual combination of studies: As a student in the Honors Program at the Robinson College of Business, she’s majoring in hospitality administration and minoring in gerontology in the hopes of one day managing resorts or residential communities for senior citizens. Georgia State, she says, is one of the only places where she could forge this unique path. “The hospitality program at Georgia State is wonderful and is ranked among the top 20 in the nation,” she explains, “and it’s also one of the few universities in the Southeast that offer a gerontology certificate for undergraduates.”

Not only that, she attends Georgia State 100 percent on scholarship. In addition to the state lottery-funded Zell Miller Scholarship, Marlena is receiving the William M. Suttles Endowed Scholarship (for students in good standing with established need), as well as the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Scholarship (for students from rural Early County who commit to earning a gerontology certificate).

Receiving so much scholarship support has inspired Marlena to give back. Her extracurricular activities include the 1913 Society, a student assistantship and being a first-year resident experience mentor, helping freshmen handle the sometimes rocky transition to college life. And as Miss Georgia State University, Marlena will represent Georgia State in the Miss Georgia pageant this summer.

Scholarship support has also enabled Marlena to take advantage of Georgia State’s study-abroad programs — she’ll spend three weeks in Europe this spring obtaining a firsthand look at hospitality administration and marketing in places such as Spain, France and Monaco. It’s one of many opportunities she might never have had if not for Georgia State.

“The financial aspect is what attracted me to Georgia State, but once I arrived I truly realized what an amazing choice it was,” Marlena says. “Every day something new happens to me that I know would never have happened at another university.”