PASCO -- A pair of Pasco students won't have to worry about paying for their college education.
Noel Gutierrez, a senior at Pasco High, and Jose Mendoza, a senior at Chiawana High, are among 1,000 across the country to receive scholarships through the Gates Millennium Scholars program.
The scholarships will cover most of their college expenses, possibly including graduate studies if they stick with the plans they have laid out so far.
To apply for the scholarship, students have to have at least a 3.5 grade-point average, show considerable involvement in community service and write eight essays explaining why they deserve the award and what they will do with their education.
Mendoza plans to make people smile -- he's going to be a dentist.
"I don't like my teeth," he said. "Because of that I don't smile and I'm not as confident. I want to help people who feel like that."
He has already earned his associate's degree from Columbia Basin College while in high school. Next he will attend the University of Washington and then head to California for dental school, he said.
On a visit to UW, Mendoza talked to dentist instructors about his dream to help people. They told him about relief missions, in which doctors and dentists travel to developing countries to provide services to the poor.
"I want to do that," he said.
Gutierrez couldn't quite decide which of his loves he wanted to pursue -- he will study film and neuroscience at Columbia University in New York.
He's "obsessed with film history," he said, but also discovered an interest in how the brain works during a psychology class at Pasco High.
"I want to do my own research and hopefully discover new things about the brain," he said.
The Gates scholarship pays for expenses through graduate school as long as the student pursues one of several fields, including science and public health, which covers the Pasco students' interests.
In their essays, the young men touched on their family background and their heritage.
"I talked about the financial need we've had as a family," Gutierrez said. "And about being proud of our culture and our heritage -- proud to succeed."
"You can use struggles as a strength," Mendoza said. "My problem was finances, but I didn't let that slow me down. I just have to try harder."
Both men volunteer their time in their communities and participated in many extracurricular activities in school, while maintaining stellar grades.
It all paid off now.
"I'm just so happy that I won't be a burden on my parents," Mendoza said.