Group shot of a large crowd at a school assembly where Nichole Bowman won her teaching award

ABERDEEN, S.D. – For Northern State University alumna Nichole Bowman, a school assembly brought the surprise of a lifetime when she was presented with a prestigious national teaching award.

Bowman, who teaches math at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre, is one of only about 60 teachers nationwide to win the annual Milken Educator Award, which carries a monetary prize of $25,000 and is called the "Oscar of teaching."

Bowman said receiving the award in a surprise presentation by Gov. Kristi Noem was an overwhelming experience. 

Woman in a blazer with dark hair embracing woman in a pink shirt and glasses in front of a large school assembly crowd

“It was all so great. I did feel like that day was all about me…which was/is weird, I’m not one who likes the spotlight much,” she said. “I do what I need to get done, without needing praise. The outcomes are good enough for me, but my school and community definitely made the entire day special!”

Bowman graduated from Northern in 2007 with a B.S.Ed. in Mathematics. She was very involved with the music department, and she also met her husband, Brooks Bowman, a music education major, at Northern.

“Aberdeen and Northern will always have a part of our hearts, because we started our little family there,” she said.

They now have three children: Gracie, 16; Bryce, 14; and Kameryn, 11. Bowman also has sisters who attended Northern, who now work in education as well.

Originally from Armour, S.D., Bowman initially toured Northern because she knew NSU music professors there from area band festivals and loved the experiences they provided.

“Once I toured, I fell in love with the smaller campus and the feel of the education and music department,” she said.

Now in her 15th year of teaching, Bowman taught in Rapid City and Kimball prior to T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre, where she teaches grades 9-12 Pre-Algebra, Geometry and Algebra II. She said she became a teacher because she was good at helping other people learn math, and she loved school. 

Three women smiling at the camera; the middle woman, in a pink shirt and glasses, is holding a certificate for a teaching award with her name, Nichole Bowman, on it

“I figured I’d be happy with my life going to school every day,” she said. “Now, I want to be a teacher to help the students. Life is funny in the way perspectives change.”

Bowman’s favorite part of teaching is finding ways to help students understand themselves.

“To see the impact of all the work I’ve put in to make them each start believing in themselves as learners,” she said. “The change is always so great from beginning to end of school year in growth of selves, and I’m so proud to be a small part of helping them each find that change!”

On her path to success, Bowman said Northern’s education and math departments were extraordinary.

“The math professors were always around to help, and encouraged it, and never stopped believing and pushing me to be better,” she said. “I had hiccups throughout my four years at NSU, and they never let me believe that they thought I wouldn’t overcome those hiccups. It’s as if they knew I could accomplish more than I thought I could. The education department really built me up as a future teacher. They also pushed me to the uncomfortable point of learning, proving how powerful those moments are in your own education.”

Her advice for other current or future teachers: “Teaching is hard. The first five years especially. Be willing to keep an open mind, use all good and constructive criticisms to learn from, and always be willing to change.”

She also advised them to learn from their colleagues.

“We teachers are so good at what we do… and always have something cool to share; be open and willing to listen and to share!” Bowman said. “We all have strengths. Always use your strengths, adjust from your weaknesses, and everything you do will continue to get better. Remember, it needs to be ALWAYS about the benefit of the student. That doesn’t mean they deserve all your time, all of the time, but they deserve the time you do spend to be deliberately for the benefit of them as a learner.”

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $150 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions

Pictured: The assembly where Bowman received her award; Gov. Kristi Noem congratulating Bowman; Bowman (center) standing with veteran Milken educators Carla Diede (left) and Amanda Christensen (right). (Photos courtesy of The Milken Family Foundation)