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In 1998, when Kiranjit Gill was just 4 years old, her parents left their homeland of Punjab, India, and traveled to the United States, settling in Palatine, Illinois. They wanted their daughter, their only child, to grow up in “the land of opportunity,” a place where her talents would take her far.
It’s safe to say Gill—a 21-year-old who already has studied abroad, published research and worked in the halls of Congress for a prominent Illinois representative—is well on her way to fulfilling her parents’ dreams, as well as her own.
“Kiran Gill is a superstar—the single best undergraduate student I have encountered in my 20 years of teaching,” says Artemus Ward, a professor of political science. “She is well on her way to a prestigious law school education and has the best chance of any student I have ever worked with to become an influential player in world of law and politics.”
Being named as NIU’s Student Lincoln Laureate is no small achievement in itself, even for a University Honors student with a nearly perfect grade point average such as Gill. Annually, an outstanding senior from each of the four-year institutions of higher learning in Illinois is chosen to receive the prestigious Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Award. It recognizes excellence in both curricular and extracurricular activities.
The awards will be presented Saturday, Nov. 7, during the annual Student Laureate Convocation at the historic Old State Capitol in Springfield.
“Kiran embodies the attributes that we want in our students—academically, personally and professionally,” says Matthew Streb, political science chair. “In addition to being bright, intellectually curious, hardworking and reliable, she is upbeat, positive and has a great sense of humor. She is the kind of student that every professor enjoys having in class, but she is the kind of student that peers gravitate to as well.”
Gill, who also is earning a minor in business innovation and entrepreneurship, says her motivation stems from the hard-work ethic of her mother, Ravinder, and her father, Balwinder.
“We really came to the United States to seek better opportunities,” Kiranjit Gill says. “Dad had a law degree in India, but here he works in retail because he would have had to do law school all over again. Still, my parents are so positive in their lives that it motivates me.”
Gill came to NIU on an academic scholarship after a standout career at Palatine High School. NIU was affordable, she says, and offered more opportunities than other universities.
“I just couldn’t even compare it to other schools—it was an easy decision,” she says. “NIU was also my first acceptance letter, and Dad said, ‘This is where you’re going to be.’ ”
Gill dove right in.
Setting the stage
Freshman year, she joined the Research Rookies program, which links undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct research projects. Working with Ward as her mentor, she collected data at the Library of Congress on the career trajectories of U.S. Supreme Court clerks, published and presented findings on the topic and continues with the research today.
“That really set the stage for everything,” she says. “Research Rookies provided a great foundation and allowed me to make so many good connections across the university and in the political science department.”
Also during her freshman year, Gill studied abroad with NIU students and faculty at Oxford University. She jokes that being at Oxford gave her a new understanding for her parents’ idiosyncratic expressions, since they came from a region of India with a British influence. More importantly, the experience abroad helped her to mature personally and academically.
“She took advantage of every opportunity to learn and to grow,” says Lara Crowley, an NIU English professor who taught an Oxford course on Shakespeare. Crowley recalls how Gill’s fascination with politics and government transferred easily to an interest in the political elements within dramatic texts. Gill became particularly fond of the play “Henry IV, Part I.”
“She recited from memory Falstaff’s speech on ‘honor’ to her classmates with such gusto and precision that I might have thought her a theater major,” Crowley says.
Interning with Tammy Duckworth
But political science and law remain the top passions of Gill, who is investigating law schools to attend after graduation in May. Professor Ward expects her to have her pick of some of the nation’s best institutions. Certainly, two internships with U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth will bolster Gill’s credentials.
“Tammy Duckworth is just an amazing person to work with because of what she stands for,” Gill says.
She worked with the congresswoman’s district office in 2014 and the D.C. office this past summer, after being selected for NIU’s highly competitive Washington D.C. Congressional Internship program. In D.C., Gill’s duties ranged from attending congressional briefings and taking staff-meeting notes to conducting research on bills and acting as a liaison with constituents.
“Working on Capitol Hill gives you so many transferable skills,” Gill says. “You’re working for high profile individuals on issues that can be time sensitive or that may attract lots of media attention. It teaches you to keep calm and prepares you to work anywhere else.”
Dedicated to helping peers
Despite her busy schedule and travels, Gill also has been highly dedicated to her fellow Huskies.
A partial list of her extra-curricular activities during her career at NIU includes being a University 101 peer instructor, a Northern Lights Ambassador, a Research Rookies peer leader, a Student Success Team member, president of the Pre-Law Honors Society, chair of the Political Science Student Advisory Committee, director of governmental affairs for the NIU Student Association and a member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Council.
“You have to keep a planner—that’s the way I go about it,” Gill says. “But I think that’s how you become successful—by getting involved in organizations you feel passionate about.”
If the university is proud of Gill, the feeling is mutual. Perhaps more than anything else, Gill says, the university allowed her to find her confidence.
“NIU gave me that opportunity to be comfortable,” she says, “with who I am.”