PASCO -- Pivotal moments have directed the educations of Saleh Jaber and Madison Belmont.
For Jaber, 19, it came during a hospital vist in his native Palestine. Inspiration for Belmont, 18, emerged while reading about the challenges women in India face.
Their classroom excellence at Columbia Basin College in Pasco led to both being chosen earlier this month as All-USA Academic All Stars and visiting with Gov. Chris Gregoire in Olympia.
They have enjoyed the recognition and the accompanying $750 scholarships, but the motivation to help others drives their desire to succeed.
"It just grabbed me that (injustice) like that was happening in the world," Belmont said.
The road to medicine
The turning point for Jaber was dramatic and painful. When about 11 years old, he was playing with his brothers at their home on the West Bank when his leg became trapped and severely injured in a sliding glass door.
He was rushed to a hospital, but many people were awaiting treatment.
"Before the surgery, I was freaking out," Jaber said.
An anesthesiologist came into the waiting area and talked with Jaber, pointing out how there weren't enough doctors to treat people. They talked about his job, and it was then and there when Jaber wanted to pursue a career in medicine.
He completed his secondary education in Palestine, but he came to the United States because of the large number of accredited universities and colleges. He came to the Tri-Cities, where he could live with an uncle while beginning his studies at Columbia Basin.
Jaber, a member of Phi Theta Kappa H onor Society, has majored in bioengineering and hopes to attend the University of Washington next fall and go on to medical school.
He also is helping a researcher in the CBC chemistry department on the effects a substance in certain plastics has on DNA.
Kristy Henscheid, a Phi Theta Kappa adviser at CBC, said Jaber also organized a student club for Math Engineering Science Achievement students and tutors people in math.
"He will definitely go far once he transfers," Henscheid said.
Jaber said he hasn't decided if he will return to Palestine after he finishes school.
"It's going to take me 10 years to finish. A lot can happen in 10 years," Jaber said.
Fighting human trafficking
Belmont was a high school junior and in a waiting room when she picked up a book about a woman's visit to India and the injustices women suffer there. She said it opened her eyes and led her down a path of work in social justice.
The Richland woman is finishing her high school education through Three Rivers HomeLink, a resource for homeschooled youth in the Richland School District. She also is pursuing an associate's degree at CBC through the Running Start program. In addition to her 3.98 GPA, she also holds a part-time job at a restaurant.
"I'm kind a Type A perfectionist person," she said, laughing.
Belmont said she wants to continue her education at Whitworth College or Eastern Washington University and focus on social work.
But she is not waiting for her formal education to get started on her mission of helping others. Belmont said she and some other Columbia Basin students recently held a fundraiser and an awareness event for Hope House, a safe house for women in Asheville, N.C.
Kay Lynn Stevens, a CBC psychology professor, said Belmont is one of the top students she has worked with and always is willing to help classmates.
"She has quiet strength," Stevens said. "Youthful, a lot of energy and wise beyond her years."
Belmont has a goal of going to Cambodia to help fight human trafficking, perhaps using her skills as a photographer to document the lives of the people she helps.