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Bruin Tracks: Close Combat, Fast Friends


By Mark Davis

Published Jan 1, 2010 8:00 AM

It sounds like something from reality TV.

Having made it through local interviews and screenings, 40 high school students from all over California are thrown together for an April weekend of communal living and intense competition. Over the course of the weekend, they work in teams and as individuals. They are tested on teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and commitment to success. Their efforts are judged by panels of experts, some who were once competitors themselves. At stake is $375,000 in scholarship funds.


But it's no reality show — it's the UCLA Alumni Scholarships State Finals. And unlike reality shows, these contestants are all winners. They've each been accepted to UCLA and landed a minimum Alumni Scholarship of $6,000. But when the weekend is over, about half the participants will secure larger awards, ranging from $8,000 to the two top prizes of $17,500 each.

"Before coming to State Finals, I thought it was just a scholarship competition," says current Alumni Scholar Katie Frost, who participated in 2006. "But State Finals was beyond my expectations. Not only was the competition more exciting and dynamic than I expected, but I connected with so many incredible students and alumni, many of whom are still close friends."

Frost is not alone. State Finals participants regularly rave about how transformative and influential the experience is for them. That's important, because most of these students are considering many highly attractive offers from top universities around the country.

The biggest winner, ultimately, is UCLA, provided that the cash awards and the weekend experience convince these highly sought-after students to enroll at UCLA.

And they do, says Stephanie Brown '85, an Alumni Scholarships donor and active volunteer since 1992. "State Finals succeeds in making these students and their parents feel part of our Bruin family," she says. "It is totally addictive for everyone who has the privilege of participating. I suppose that's why more than 90 percent of the State Finalists file their UCLA Statement of Intent to Register the next day."

State Finals is the culmination of months of effort and the goodwill and foresight of generous scholarship donors who make it possible for UCLA Alumni Scholarships to award $1.4 million each year.

Beginning in March, hundreds of volunteers begin reviewing thousands of scholarship applications. They choose the brightest, most impressive applicants to interview in person. From that top tier of applicants, 40 area winners are chosen to move forward to State Finals.

It's not only the students who find the experience transformative. Volunteers return year after year and often form long-lasting relationships with award recipients.

"When you meet these young people, you can't help but feel good about the future of UCLA," says Randy Farber '81, donor and chair of the Alumni Scholarships Steering Committee. "You can't help but feel good about the future of this country, because these are our future leaders, and they will solve the problems we face today."