USA Today recognizes three SIUC students

USA Today names only 60 college students nationwide to its All-USA College Academic Team each year for being outstanding scholars.

Three SIUC students were announced to have achieved positions on the Academic Team during a press conference Wednesday, and will be featured in USA Today.

Jessica Stout, a senior from Taylorville studying physiology, Lee Stewart, a senior from Dowell studying political science, and Jordan Kabat, a 2011 mechanical engineering graduate from Waltonville, represent SIUC on the national team. All are University Honors students and Presidential Scholars.

Chancellor Rita Cheng began the conference stating that she is a proud chancellor.

She said the honor reflects the passion, intuition, initiative and commitment of these students, and she also credited the staff of the University Honors Program and the faculty members who provided mentoring.

Pam Gwaltney, director of the Office of Major Scholarship Advisement, said the three students have excelled in academics and have been outstanding representatives of the program.

“USA Today rewards students who demonstrate exceptional leadership both inside and outside of the classroom,” Gwaltney said. “These students are definitely a benefit to our society.”

To achieve this award, besides being a full-time undergraduate student, the student’s institution must nominate him or her for the award. Judges consider factors such as grade point average, participation in school and community activities, and demonstration of leadership skills.

Stout said she was in shock when she received her email about the award and said her first reaction was, “No way.”

Kabat said it is a great accomplishment and feels great to be acknowledged for it.

He said the self-satisfaction and pride are the best rewards for all the time and effort he has committed.

Stout said she agrees self-satisfaction is very rewarding and that the recognition is very humbling.

“Being able to give back to the community that has given so much to us is also what makes it all worth it,” Stout said.

Stout will attend the SIU School of Medicine in the fall and intends to specialize in pediatric oncology.

She has worked as a research assistant with the SIU School of Medicine and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and she has served as the executive director for the Up ’til Dawn student organization, which raises funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Stewart has been involved in research projects since his sophomore year and has held internships with the Illinois State Police and the Attorney General’s office.

In 2009, he received national attention as a member of the USA Archery’s College Archery Program Collegiate All-American Team, as well as the All-Academic Team associated with the Archery Program.

Kabat, who placed on USA Today’s Third Team, is a fourth-generation Saluki who has accepted a job with Peabody Energy in Evansville, Ind.

Kabat was a founding member of the Scholars United Making Monumental Impacts a Tradition, or SUMMIT, and earned a REACH undergraduate research grant.

All three students were also ambassadors for SIUC to the university’s sister institutions in China.

Kabat said the recognition shows that the university ranks among the nation’s best institutions.

Many well-known universities grace the Academic Team such as Cornell, Rice, the Naval Academy and University of California at Berkeley.

“We tell our students that big things are always within reach and that proof is here in the room tonight,” Cheng said.

Since 2006, SIUC has had eight students place on the Academic Team but has never had two students on the “First Team”, which consists of the top 20 college students in the nation.

Stout and Stewart were both named to the First Team, making SIUC the only Illinois institution represented and the only twice-represented institution on the First Team.

To have students place in the top 10 percent in the nation is amazing, said Lori Merrill-Fink, director of University Honors Program.

Cheng said the three students came to SIUC with a passion for learning and found academic opportunities that could take them anywhere.

“I’m confident that their talents, combined with their experiences here, will also take them as far as they want to go in their careers,” she said.

Stewart said it is a great honor to even be considered for the award.

He said after reading the accomplishments of past winners, it is humbling to join such an amazing group of people.

“The greatest thing about all of this is that all three of us have been friends since our freshman year,” Stewart said. “It’s a pretty amazing process for us to be able to receive this award together.”


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About Tiffany Blanchette

Senior at SIUC majoring in photojournalism and zoology. Can be easily reached at or 618-536-3311 ext. 254.

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