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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Berkeley staffer brings admissions process to life (and to TV) on 'The Scholar'

– Marquesa Lawrence, a UC Berkeley outreach officer, is appearing in a new ABC-TV reality show called "The Scholar." In it, 10 outstanding high school students from across the country live together while competing to win a full scholarship, valued at $250,000, to the college of their choice.

Marquesa Lawrence on the set of "The Scholar"
Marquesa Lawrence on location with "The Scholar." (Photos by Dan Mogulof / UC Berkeley)

Each week, the students take quizzes, perform problem-solving exercises and participate in other tasks designed to reveal personal attributes such as leadership. Lawrence (whose first name is pronounced Mar-quess-uh) is one of three judges on a "scholarship committee" that assesses the students' performance during each episode. The six-episode show will air Mondays at 8 p.m. beginning June 6.

Lawrence has worked in UC Berkeley admissions for eight years in what she considers her "dream job." She travels from the San Fernando Valley to San Diego County to meet with students, parents and high school counselors to discuss the admissions process and encourage students to prepare for a college education. She also reads and scores applications for freshman admissions. The show's two other judges, as well as two of the show's producers, also have worked in college admissions.

A 34-year-old resident of Long Beach, Lawrence was raised in Compton and attended parochial schools before attending UC Santa Barbara and earning a bachelor's degree in Chicano Studies and Spanish.

UC Berkeley Media Relations' Janet Gilmore recently spoke with Lawrence about her unexpected and rewarding role in "The Scholar."

Q: How did your participation in "The Scholar" come about, and what was your initial reaction?

A: I received a message from (UC Berkeley) Associate Vice Chancellor Richard Black asking if I would like to participate in something "fun." He notified me that there was a "reality" show focusing on a competition for a full scholarship for college.

He made sure that I knew it was not a "reality" show where the participants had to do anything quirky or disgusting. It was presented to me in a way that was very low-key and easy. I was also told that the show would really be about what I do as an admissions counselor already and basically that I would just be auditioning. You just assume you're not going to get selected and then, it's like, you got it! And then the show's producers start calling you …

Q: What did you have to do in the audition, and why do you think they selected you?

A: A colleague and I were given two applications of applicants to "The Scholar" who were not selected, and we had to debate why one student was more deserving of the scholarship than the other. I really couldn't tell you why I was picked … maybe it was the blond hair.

Q: "The Scholar" bills itself as a show that brings the college application to life. Does the show capture the basics of what college admissions officials are looking for?

A: I believe "The Scholar" really does bring the college application to life. Within the UC system, there is not much personal contact with the students once we receive their paper applications. This process (on "The Scholar") allowed me to really get to know and see the students in action. It allowed me to ask the questions I've always wanted to ask when reading an application.

Q: What kind of questions?

A: Is this person really like the application, or are they trying to sound like the perfect student? Things in the personal statement that they briefly mention but
don't expound on, i.e., family dynamics, neighborhood, economics, etc.

Makeup artist applies makeup
A makeup artist applies the finishing touches to Marquesa Lawrence before the taping of a segment of "The Scholar."

Q: What can you share with us about your experiences on the set filming the show?

A: It's like a movie set. There's a lot of waiting. There's a lot of food. People are very attentive to you. You are treated like a movie star: "Can I get your bag?" "Do you need anything?"

We didn't have to learn any lines. It was very much just doing my job on camera. There were no people around us attempting to influence our decisions. They said, "We want the integrity of the show to be without question." We were all very surprised about that. They really meant what they said.

Q: What do you hope will come out of this show in terms of its effect on students and parents watching at home?

A: I would like the effect to be that it [college] is possible, that "where there is a will, there is a way." Many students and parents give up on their dreams once they see the cost of college or the paperwork involved before they really research the process.

Q: In your UC Berkeley job, what are the key points you try to convey to middle school and high school students when you meet with them and discuss college?

A: That getting into college is not a secret. The basic requirements have been the same forever. People who get into college make sure they are aware of requirements and are not dependent on someone else spoon-feeding them the information. College is for those who want it, and it is a necessity for survival in today's society. I also like to convey to students that you do not have to like school, you just have to do it. Anyone can succeed in college if they put their minds to it.

Q: On a lighter note, your name and photo are already posted on the show's ABC Web site, and once "The Scholar" airs you can expect more people to recognize you. Are you ready for all of the attention?

A: This is an out-of-body experience! I guess I still can't believe how this process has snowballed. That didn't hit me until yesterday [Thursday, May 19] when I saw the commercial promoting the show.

I guess I am in some sort of denial about being recognized or receiving more attention than normal. We will see what happens once the show airs.