Potomac resident Michelle M. Kao, a junior at Churchill High School, and Gaithersburg resident Thomas J. McCarthy, a junior at Wooton High School, are among 66 winners in the National Endowment for the Humanities Bicentennial Younger Scholars competition, it was announced last week.

Each student is being awarded $1,400 and will spend the summer writing a paper on the U.S. Constitution as part of a program focusing on the upcoming 200th anniversary of the document's signing, said program spokesman Darrel DuChaby.

DeChaby said 248 high school and college students applied for the grants.

McCarthy, 16, will conduct research into the U.S. Constitution's influence on the formation of governments in Latin America.

"It sounded better to me than a regular summer job," said McCarthy, who spent last summer bagging groceries at a Safeway in Darnestown.

"I also thought it would help me out for college," he said.

Kao, 16, will write about the influence of French philosopher Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu on the writing of the Constitution.

Kao said she has a strong interest in French history.

The sophistication of the proposals submitted by students around the country "frankly knocked my socks off," DeChaby said.

"We have kids ready to read primary sources in other languages. Their subjects would do credit to a PhD."

The applications were reviewed by a panel of academics familiar with constitutional history.