Student engagement in research, artistry and service is a hallmark of the NIU education. And…
Rachel Jacob, NIU’s newly minted Student Lincoln Laureate, is the type of student who sets high goals for herself.
Then she wildly exceeds them.
Case in point. When history professor Beatrix Hoffman first met Jacob as a new freshman, Jacob said she hoped during her NIU career to land an internship in Washington, D.C., and study abroad. Like most NIU students, the Long Grove native hadn’t traveled much outside of Illinois.
By the end of her sophomore year, Jacob had already accomplished a much longer list of amazing achievements and experiences that took her from DeKalb to D.C. to Indonesia. Throughout her NIU career, she squeezed every ounce out the opportunities that came her way—while also generously giving of her own time to fellow students and NIU.
“She is, quite simply, the most ambitious and accomplished student I have worked with in my 21 years at Northern Illinois University,” Hoffman says. “Rachel does NIU proud.”
Being named as NIU’s Student Lincoln Laureate, or top senior, is no small feat in itself, with competition from a pool of the university’s most talented students. Annually, an outstanding senior from each of Illinois’ four-year universities is selected for the prestigious Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Award. It recognizes excellence in both curricular and extracurricular activities.
A University Honors student with stellar grades, Jacob is pursuing majors in both history and political science, with minors in economics and Southeast Asian Studies. In a joint nomination letter, history chair James Schmidt and political science chair Scot Schraufnagel had no small praise for Jacob, calling her “arguably the most accomplished Huskie in a generation.”
She has served a total of three internships, including one on Capitol Hill with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly. She twice won funding awards allowing her to study in Indonesia. The awards included an ultra-competitive Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State that took her this past summer to the predominantly Muslim city of Malang, where she lived with a host family.
Under the mentorship of Hoffman and political science professor Artemus Ward, Jacob also undertook three major research projects related to employment law and women’s rights. They resulted in U.S. Library of Congress archive work, a first-place award during NIU’s Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day, a position paper for Rep. Kelly’s office and a public presentation in Indonesia, which Jacob delivered in the Indonesian language.
For all her accomplishments, Jacob credits others.
“I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve received here,” she says. “I don’t think it would have happened at another institution. NIU puts a lot of effort and time in its students, especially if you are willing to take the initiative.”
In addition to her rigorous academic schedule, Jacob has embarked on a dizzying array of extracurricular and service activities. Just a few highlights: president of her sorority, Alpha Phi; Research Rookies peer mentor; and three years of elected service in the NIU Student Association, which serves as the voice of the student body.
This year, Jacob is serving as SA president—the first female elected to the post in more than two decades. In that role, she is spearheading an initiative to recognize mental health challenges faced by young people and is pressing for creation of a scholarship for undocumented students at NIU.
Jacob says she looks back and knows NIU was the right decision for her. As a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, she had narrowed her college choices to two schools and was leaning toward the other before she came for a visit to NIU.
“I liked the feel of the campus, and NIU had good scholarship opportunities,” she said. “I met with faculty in political science and history and ended up loving it. I committed to NIU that same day.”
At NIU, she found faculty mentors who pushed her to excel, including former political science chair Matt Streb and federal relations director Anna Quider, who supervised one of Jacob’s internships.
“My biggest mentor was Dr. Beatrix Hoffman,” she adds, noting that they continue to meet weekly on her senior thesis. “She’s been incredible, helping me with personal growth, academic growth and leadership.”
Jacob has received numerous scholarships and honors, including being the first student in NIU history to be named a finalist for the nationally prestigious Truman Scholarship. But for all the accolades, she is most proud of her experiences in Indonesia, for being unafraid of “stepping out of my comfort zone.”
“I would never have guessed I’d be so passionate about Southeast Asian studies,” she says. “Now I want to dedicate my career to it.”
Jacob is currently applying to top-tier law schools and hopes to someday work as a U.S. Department of State foreign services officer in Indonesia. Her Student Lincoln Laureate Award will be presented Saturday, Nov. 11, during the annual Student Laureate Convocation at the historic Old State Capitol in Springfield.
Other nominees for the NIU Student Lincoln Laureate included first finalist Drew Donnally (chemistry), finalist Wataru Hashimoto (applied physics), Erin Hernandez (international politics and Spanish) and Sydney Johnson (corporate communications and community leadership and civic engagement).