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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

The Scholar by Matt McGann '00

ABC has a new reality television show called The Scholar, which is a college admissions-themed scholarship competition. The first of six episodes aired last night. ABC describes it like this:

The opportunity of a lifetime is about to come true for one of America’s best and brightest high school students in an original, new, one-hour unscripted series that will give the winner a college education from a top-rated school of their choice. Filmed on location at the University of Southern California, The Scholar will be the first show ever to celebrate higher education as the ultimate American prize.

For the chance at a full ride to the college of their choice, ten qualified high school seniors from economically disadvantaged backgrounds — who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend one of America’s top universities — will compete for a full scholarship, a prize that could be worth as much as $240,000. They will have to demonstrate excellence in the areas of academics, leadership, creativity and community service, while facing sudden-death oral exams defending themselves to an Ivy League scholarship committee.

As I was reading the article about the show in yesterday’s New York Times, I learned something I didn’t know: that the executive at ABC who greenlighted to show is an MIT alumna. Andrea Wong ’88 is the Executive Vice President for Alternative Programming, Specials and Late Night at ABC Entertainment. Two recent conferences listed her with this bio (edited for length):

Andrea Wong was named executive vice president, Alternative Programming, Specials and Late Night, ABC Entertainment, in May, 2004. In her position Ms. Wong develops and oversees alternative series and special programming for the ABC television network. During her tenure she has launched the phenomenal relationship reality series, “The Bachelor,” which has had five successful editions, as well as two editions of its sister show, “The Bachelorette.” Ms. Wong also developed the provocative hit series “Extreme Makeover,” which was born out of a special she brought to the network in 2002. In 2003, she expanded the franchise and brought the concept of radical makeovers to the home with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Ms. Wong also developed the successful franchise “The Mole” and “Celebrity Mole” and was involved in bringing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” to the U.S. With the success of this roster of programs, Ms. Wong helped create an ABC brand of alternative programming that is based on wish fulfillment, emotional journeys and fundamentally changing lives for the better. Ms. Wong also the network’s point executive on two of the entertainment industry’s grandest institutions, “The Academy Awards” and “The American Music Awards.” Ms. Wong also oversees ABC’s Late Night programming, including “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” She joined ABC in August, 1993, as a researcher for “ABC News PrimeTime Live.” In June of 1994 Ms. Wong was named executive assistant to the president, ABC Television Network, and in November, 1995, was appointed executive assistant to the president, ABC, Inc. In September, 1997, she took on expanded duties when she was promoted to vice president and executive assistant to the president, ABC, Inc. By 1998 she was appointed vice president, Alternative Series and Specials, ABC Entertainment and in 2000, was promoted to senior vice president. Ms. Wong graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1988.

She sounds like someone who would be interesting to meet… I’ll have to look her up the next time I’m in Southern California.

Anyway, the first episode of The Scholar was interesting and a little disappointing. The best part were the 10 students (a.k.a. “the scholars“) vying for the scholarship, most of whom came across as students who genuinely deserved the opportunity. For what it’s worth, none of the “scholars” applied to MIT.

What disappointed me most was the show’s portrayal of the Admissions Officers (a.k.a. “the scholarship committee“) as being scary, intimidating folks. One segment of the episode was a series of interviews with each scholar by the panel of three admissions officers, all doing their best Simon Cowell/Donald Trump impersonations.

MIT’s alumni admissions interviews are not designed to be scary intimidating interviews like the ones portrayed on “The Scholar.” In general, an interview with an MIT Educational Counselor (EC) is more like a conversation and less like an interrogation. The purpose is to find out more about you as a person and as a student.

These blogs are here in part to counteract the stereotype of the intimidating admissions officer portrayed on “The Scholar.” I hope that through my blog and Ben’s blog you’ve seen that Admissions Officers are normal people, and that we’re genuinely here to help. And through Daniel’s blog, I think you’ve seen that Financial Aid Officers are also normal people, and are there to help you afford the college of your choice.

Overall, I felt that the program was an odd way to select people for a very large scholarship (perhaps more on this in a future entry), but I’m happy that it is a program that, for the most part, is what ABC says it is: a show that “celebrate[s] higher education as the ultimate American prize.”

For those of you who saw it, what did you think?

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