The NEIU Commons is shown on the Main Campus.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Northeastern Illinois University has selected Physical Education (K-12) major Miriam Varela as its 2019 Lincoln Academy Student Laureate. Every fall semester, the Lincoln Academy of Illinois honors one graduating senior from each university in the state who demonstrates leadership and service contributions on campus and beyond, academic success, and extracurricular achievements.

Varela and other student laureates from around the state will be recognized during a Nov. 16 ceremony and luncheon at the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in Springfield, and will be awarded the Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Medallion, a certificate of achievement, and a monetary grant.

“It is very important for me to help others and give back when I can because you never know someone’s background story, and I try never to judge,” Varela said. “To be acknowledged just for doing something kind is a great feeling. I feel very honored by this award.”

Varela, a Chicago native and graduate of Lane Tech College Prep High School, is on track to graduate in May 2020. The degree will launch Varela into a teaching career after years working as a court reporter.

“A lot of people told me it was not a good idea to return to college and change careers, but I wanted to switch and work with children,” said Varela, who also works as a personal trainer. “Physical education seemed like the right pathway.”

Varela’s passion about physical education stems from her work with adults.

“I’ve always been interested in fitness,” she said. “I’ve always believed in living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve been with adults for so long that I felt like they didn’t get the right information when they were younger. That’s why I want to work with children—to ensure they start learning the right lessons about health early in their lives.”

Varela has demonstrated excellence through her academic achievements. She formerly served as the vice president of the Health and Physical Education student organization, and she is active with the Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) state organization and Chicago District chapter. Varela also volunteers with the Illinois Special Olympics and coordinates several sports-related fundraising events in the area to help supply less fortunate kids with the equipment they need to participate safely.

Varela has demonstrated top-notch academic acumen, earning numerous scholarships for her achievements. With the help of Assistant Professor Kimberly Maljak, Varela wrote an article titled “The Influence of Culturally Relevant Curriculum and Student Engagement in Physical Education” that has been accepted for publication in an academic journal.

“It has been a pleasure getting to know and working with Miriam Varela,” Maljak said. “She is an enthusiastic, compassionate and upstanding student who has thrived in the P.E. program and in the field. As a teacher, children will love her ability to make moving fun, engaging and creative.”

Miriam Varela smiles into the camera in front of a white background.

Miriam Varela