By Julia Albertson
Becca Gadiel of Knox College was named Student Laureate for the 2021-2022 school year by the Lincoln Academy of Illinois for her exceptional academic achievements. Each fall, the Lincoln Academy awards outstanding seniors from each participating university in the state with a certificate, Lincoln Academy Medallion, and stipend. Historically, Student Laureates would travel to the state capital to receive their honor from the governor. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, students did not meet with him this year.
The Student Laureate award is not the only honor bestowed upon Gadiel. Most Phi Beta Kappa members are inducted during their senior year, but Gadiel was inducted by the Delta of Illinois chapter as a junior. She views her induction as validation. “I put a lot of effort into my academics. It was a really nice recognition, and all the hard work is not unnoticed,” she said. “It encourages me and motivates me to continue that intellectual and personal growth and journey, even as I graduate because of the legacy of Phi Beta Kappa.” Set to graduate in the spring of 2022, Gadiel is pursuing a degree in psychology, with minors in philosophy and social services. She plans to participate in an AmeriCorps program after graduation and apply for a Master of Social Work program.
Building up experience in the social service realm, Gadiel works as a counseling services peer educator for Knox. When classes went virtual, she would lead nightly meditation sessions for students to participate in over Google Meet. Additionally, she has lead workshops on mental health topics such as recognizing the signs of burnout and supporting loved ones during National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. Her work as a peer educator helps increase outreach and support for the small campus community.
Drawn to Knox College for its tight-knit community and small campus, she has found many benefits. With fewer than 2,000 enrolled undergraduate students, it’s a big change from her hometown of Chicago, but it has been helpful. “It’s easier to spread the word about things, and I think, overall, it helps with fostering a campus community, when you have other students who are engaging you in these activities or other students you know from class or extracurriculars,” she said. “I think it’s cool, and you tend to want to support them.”
The small class sizes allowed her to work on a more personal level with her professors. Working closely under Associate Professor of Psychology Andy Hertel in a psychology lab, Gadiel co-authored a paper titled “Substance User Self-Fit Perception Increases Identification as a Substance User,” which was recently accepted for publication. Working with a team to run studies and write the report was a unique experience for an undergraduate student. “I feel like one of the big benefits of going to a smaller school is that I was able to work in a lab directly with a professor, not with a teaching assistant or anything,” Gadiel said.
The small school experience comes with challenges as well. As president of the Jewish Club, she recognizes the emphasis on extensive outreach to an even smaller Jewish community on campus. It is her goal to ensure that incoming students feel welcome. “I feel a lot of responsibility for making sure that there is a community for the students who are Jewish,” she said, “because it’s not super easily accessible.”
Judaism is an important aspect of her identity, and it shapes the values that carry her through life. When accepting the Student Laureate award, recipients need to submit a passage about the values of Abraham Lincoln, to be published in a pamphlet. Gadiel was able to draw from her personal experiences and beliefs. “In thinking about that,” Gadiel recalled, “a lot of other Jewish values stood out to me—helping the world and giving back and justice and just in general being a good person for the sake of helping others, not for the sake of your personal gain.”
After graduation, Gadiel plans to move back to the city. But for her college experience, operating closely in small communities has accelerated her academic and professional success, landing her one of the highest honors that Illinois has to offer to students.
Julia Albertson is a senior at Temple University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies with a journalism studies minor. She was inducted by Temple University’s Rho of Pennsylvania chapter in May 2021.