Three Yale students — Nathan Herring ’06, Jessica Leight ’06 and Chelsea Purvis ’06 — are among the 32 nationwide recipients of the 2006 Rhodes Scholarship.

The students were selected from a pool of 903 U.S. applicants based on their academic achievements, extracurricular leadership, research proposals and performance in interviews. The scholarship will fully fund at least two years of study at Oxford University.

The University of Chicago and Duke University also had three winners each. Only the U.S. Naval Academy had more winners, with four recipients. For the second time in 75 years, no students from Harvard won the award.

All three students said they were surprised and excited by their wins, especially after the long application process.

“I was just in total disbelief,” Purvis said. “It took hours for it to hit me. My mom was telling everyone in the hotel over and over again, so eventually I realized that I did do it.”

Purvis, a history major with a perfect grade-point average and a student leader in the Yale Sustainable Food Project, will pursue a master’s degree in economic and social history at Oxford, focusing primarily on land tenure in the British Empire in the early 20th century.

“I plan to work in law advocacy in developing countries, and I think land-tenure history will help me understand [their] development,” Purvis said.

Purvis said her interest in developing countries was stimulated by her experiences volunteering abroad. After Oxford, Purvis said, she plans to attend law school and then work with a human rights nonprofit in the United States that helps people in developing countries.

Classics professor Michael Anderson said Purvis stood out in his course.

“In her mythology class, it was like she was a classical civilizations major,” Anderson said. “On the exams she would give twice as much as I expected.”

Leight, an ethics, politics and economics major, said she is primarily interested in Latin American economic policy and plans to pursue a master’s in development studies at Oxford.

Leight said this interest was sparked by an internship she held the summer after her freshman year with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, where she conducted research on trade policy and Haiti. Since then, Leight has conducted independent economic research on Chile and Argentina.

“She knows more about political economics in Latin America than anyone I know,” Ezra Stiles Dean Jennifer Wood said. “She’s been interviewed and published more than anyone I know of her age.”

At Yale, Leight is also involved with a number of groups, including the Student Campaign for Child Survival, Connecticut Voices for Children and Respect Line. She has also been recognized by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for her work on homeless issues.

Leight said she plans to pursue her interests in both academics and activism after Oxford.

“I’m hoping to divide my time between academic work and policy-making, particularly with trade policy in developing countries, specifically how it can be used to lead to more equitable growth,” she said.

Herring, a psychology major who transferred to Yale after two years at the University of Miami, plans to pursue a master’s in evidence-based social work while at Oxford.

Herring currently works in the lab of Richard Eibach, a psychology professor who asked Herring to conduct research for him after teaching him in a graduate student seminar.

“He’s very well-rounded and very mature,” Eibach said. “There was a Friday evening, and he was helping a graduate student collect data … and they got held up. He had a first date that night, but he rescheduled and stayed late, which is not something I would expect my students to do.”

Herring said he is especially interested in clinical and adolescent psychology, a period that he said is often overlooked. He has already begun to pursue this interest through volunteer work with High Meadows, a residential clinic for adolescents with severe emotional disorders. Herring said he is also interested in outdoor adventure therapy and is working on restarting the adventure therapy program at the clinic.

“I really see him as being someone able to transcend or build that bridge between basic social science research and social policy to transform people’s lives,” Eibach said.

Herring, who is also the president of Yale’s Zeta Psi fraternity chapter and played varsity football before an injury sidelined him, said he also looks forward to the opportunity to go abroad for the first time and to study without having to worry about funding his education. He runs a small logging company in Vermont to earn money for tuition.

Approximately 32 students from Yale applied to be endorsed for the Rhodes scholarship this year, said Mark Bauer, the associate director of Yale’s International Education and Fellowships Program. In order to compete nationwide, students must be endorsed by the University. Winners are then selected from the group of finalists in their geographic district.