Elementary Education Major Named 2022 Lincoln Laureate

Bella Benning receives Millikin University’s 2022 Lincoln Laureate award

As an elementary education major, Bella Benning, Class of 2023, was honored as Millikin University’s recipient of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois’ Student Laureate Award for 2022. The senior from Bethany, Ill., received a monetary prize, a Lincoln medallion and a certificate of merit signed by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. 

Each fall, an outstanding senior from each of the four-year degree-granting institutions of higher learning in Illinois is awarded the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Award and thereby becomes a Student Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. In the spirit of Lincoln, student laureates are honored for their leadership and service in the pursuit of the betterment of humanity and overall excellence in curricular and extracurricular activities. 

Student Laureates are nominated by a professor or advisor and then chosen by the chief executive officers of their respective institutions, who also serve as Academic Trustees of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. 

“I was completely surprised and honored that my professors would want to recognize me with this award,” Benning remarked. She was especially honored that her nomination came from Dr. Chris Cunnings, Director of the School of Education. “I really look up to Dr. Cunnings in the education world. He’s really been my biggest hype man in this major.”


Isabella Banning receiving an award


When Benning began at Millikin she chose to major in biology, but she did not feel it was the right path for her. “After I made the switch to elementary education, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. Aiming to become a teacher felt like the natural choice for Benning, as she has been involved with children through babysitting, working at daycares and coaching for several years. She was also influenced by teachers she worked with during her internships and the teachers from her hometown of Bethany, Ill.

“It’s inspiring knowing how proud all of my teachers are of me and how they saw that teacher in me from the start,” she said. “Getting this award is a full circle moment after I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and now I know that I want to be a teacher and give back to my community, wherever I go.” 

While at Millikin, Benning has participated in elementary teaching internships, such as the opportunity to work with young children at the Kids-N-Fitness South daycare facility. She has also been involved with Millikin’s cheerleading team, which competed in the 2022 National Cheerleading Association’s College Cheer Nationals in Daytona, Fla. “Millikin has given me so many opportunities, and being on the cheer squad for Nationals was a highlight,” she said.

Millikin’s provost, Mary Black, was encouraged to see Benning’s accomplishments and leadership acknowledged with the Lincoln Laureate Award. “We are really proud to be able to celebrate excellence in scholarship, leadership and service. A candidate like Bella is a true example of excellence on Millikin’s campus,” Black remarked.