Given their penchant for writing and provoking debate, it may not be surprising that three Yale students’ names would eventually grace the pages of USA Today. But unlike others, their recent mention in the newspaper came with a $2,500 cash prize and trophy.

Daniel Clemens ’05, Sarah Stillman ’06 and Aaron Tang ’05 were honored last week by USA Today’s All-USA College Academic First Team, a program recognizing 20 of the nation’s most exceptional undergraduate scholars. The number of selections broke the program’s record for representatives from a single school.

The First Team’s 20 undergraduates were selected from 602 nominees in recognition of their academic excellence and contributions outside the classroom.

English professor Margaret Spillane, Stillman’s former teacher, said though it is exciting that Yale broke USA Today’s record, the credit belongs to the students rather than the University.

“If anything, it’s a tribute to Yale that it recognizes people like that and selects them to the student body,” she said. “[Stillman] would have shone anywhere.”

Stillman and Clemens were the only honorees earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees concurrently.

An anthropology major, Stillman has devoted much of her college career to feminist issues and prisoners’ rights. The child of two activists, Stillman is currently writing a book about the negative impact of corporate globalization on young women. She is also the founder of Yale’s feminist journal Manifesta.

“All there really was out there was Seventeen Magazine and all this junk that operated on the premise that the only thing girls are interested in are makeup and boys,” she said. “My writing is really born out of that frustration.”

Stillman worked with the Student Legal Action Movement to start a local prison tutoring program and a free transportation service for prisoners’ families.

Tang is the founder of Our Education, an intercollegiate initiative that aims to empower students to improve their K-12 education. A political science major, Tang said he is passionate about education reform because many students do not have access to good schooling, which he attributed to his own success.

Winning the USA Today award is less a recognition of true accomplishment than of his laying the groundwork for a national education reform movement, Tang said.

“I’m really honored by the award … but I’d stop short of saying that I succeeded,” Tang said. “There’s so much left to do in the realm of the education reform, that what I feel honored about is the start that we’ve made.”

Clemens, also a political science major, was recognized largely for his work in preventative health care. He has worked as a personal trainer for four years, and founded New Haven’s Lift for Kids program, which teaches children healthy lifestyles. He also traveled to Cuba to study the nation’s health care system at Universidad de La Habana and has spent the past two years writing a book about the history of the health supplement industry.

“The book was sort of a labor of love,” he said. “I first delved into the topic kind of innocuously, out of personal interest. Then I realized that I could fill a void, and have fun doing it.”

After he graduates, he will be attending Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.

USA Today also recognized 40 runners-up, none of them from Yale.

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