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ESU Alum Receives 'Oscar' of Teaching Profession

Two men and two women pose in a single line facing the camera

When Kristine Becker entered the gymnasium of Logan Elementary School in North Topeka on Wednesday for a school assembly, she was wondering what good news she would hear.

“We did really well on state assessments last year,” she recalled thinking, “or our school was getting some kind of award.”

When the presenter began explaining about the Milken Educator Awards, Becker’s thoughts turned elsewhere. She already was aware of the awards as she has a few friends who received the awards earlier. She began looking around the gym wondering who would receive the award, considered the Oscars of the teaching profession.

“When my name was called,” Becker said, “I thought, ‘Did I really hear my name?’”

Yes, she did. And Becker, who earned two degrees from Emporia State University, became the 11th Hornet to be named a Milken Educator since the program began in 1987. An initiative of the Milken Family Foundation, the awards have rewarded and inspired excellence in the world of education by honoring top educators around the country with $25,000 unrestricted awards. Not an accolade for “lifetime achievement” or the proverbial gold watch at the exit door, the Milken Educator Awards targets early-to-mid career education professionals for their already impressive achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future.

"Whether transformed into a courtroom, campfire ground, or spy headquarters, Kristine's classroom is a window to the world. These rich learning experiences are providing students with tangible skills to succeed in school and life," said Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop, who is a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator herself.

Bishop and Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson presented the award on Wednesday.

As a 2023 Milken Educator, Becker received an unrestricted $25,000 cash award and becomes a lifelong member of the Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 outstanding educators and leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. She will join other 2023 honorees at an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in April, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education.

Becker is in her 10th year teaching fourth grade at Logan Elementary, starting after she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Emporia State in 2013. She went on to complete a master’s degree in instructional coaching with a concentration in elementary STEM in 2016.

“I gained so much knowledge and the strong network I have through Emporia State,” Becker said.

Her time on the Emporia campus also led to another very important part of her life. She met her husband, Jordan Yulich, in Emporia. As students both worked as resident assistants in the residence halls and pursued education degrees. Yulich teaches fifth grade at Tecumseh North Elementary School in the Shawnee Heights school district. They have a 9-month-old son, Owen.

For more information about the awards reception for Kristine Becker, including video and photos, and the Milken Educator Awards, go to

Photo caption: Veteran Milken Educator Brad Nicks (KS '09), second from left, shares a special moment with three former students — all of whom credit him with inspiring them to pursue careers in education, and all now members of the Milken Educator family. Brad shares a very special relationship with Kristine Becker, third from left, who received a Milken Educator Award on Wednesday. Not only was she his student, but she used to babysit his son! The two other students of Nicks who are Milken Educators are Ryan Pfeifer (KS '21), far left; and Carly Bowden (KS '19), far right. Nicks, Becker and Bowden are all ESU alumni. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation.