Abigail Newman loved playing school. Then she loved babysitting. Really, she always loved interacting with children.
When she was a senior at Oregon High School, she jumped at the opportunity to spend one period each day as a teacher’s assistant in a first-grade classroom across Jefferson Street.
“I made a special connection with a young boy in that class,” says Newman, who completed her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in May. “He told me that he looked forward to seeing me when I came to school. Sometimes, he would do more for me than for his teacher. That was something that really drove me to become a teacher.”
But Newman’s life has been one of multiple strong and positive influences.
Her father, Gerald, enlisted in the military when he was 17 – “basically like a lot of kids do to help pay for college,” Abigail says – and eventually went through ROTC and Officer Candidate School to become commissioned.
Col. Newman retired from the National Guard in December, capping a celebrated 35-year career that included stints at the Pentagon, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and, most recently, commanding the 108th Sustainment Brigade in Chicago.
Those decades of leadership and service inspired both of his children to follow his example.
And when Abigail was commissioned May 7, it was a proud and supportive Col. Newman who pinned his cadet-daughter during the NIU Army Reserve Officer Training Corps ceremony inside the Holmes Student Center.
Newman knew her role model would love to join her on stage: Her brother, Garrett, recently promoted to captain in the U.S. Air Force, received his second lieutenant bars from their father
“From witnessing my dad – he built a family outside of his family, and there are so many people he’s friends with – I just wanted to have that kind of life,” Newman says. “I also like to lead people and encourage people to be the best they can be, so I know that being an officer was my best option.”
She will report next June to Ft. Lee in Virginia after serving a year of active duty with the Illinois National Guard in Springfield, where she will work to recruit new soldiers.
Reporting downstate makes full time a career that began part time in 2019, when she enlisted in a simultaneous membership program, obtained a scholarship and contracted with ROTC that eliminated the need to attend boot camp.
“I still drilled once a month with a specific unit, and that allowed me to be treated like an officer but not have an officer’s responsibility,” Newman says. “The sergeants taught me what they like in an officer.”
Although she’s currently signed up for an eight-year hitch, she plans to make the military a lifetime career as her father did.
However, she hasn’t ruled out becoming a teacher someday while continuing to serve as a National Guard member who reports one weekend each month and for two weeks during the summer.
“I had always heard that NIU’s College of Education was great, and I always recommend it. It’s an awesome program, hands-on and really teaches you to be a teacher,” Newman says.
“I chose ESL because I see that as a growing aspect of teaching, and something that I like about ESL is that you don’t need to know what language the kids speak,” she adds. “If I ever have the chance to travel and the opportunity to live somewhere else, I’ll have that endorsement and be able to teach the children and give them whatever support they need.”