Mayim Bialik (aka Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on television’s popular “The Big Bang Theory”) not only plays a super smart female scientist, she IS one.
Best known for her leading role in the 90s family hit, “Blossom” and the young Bette Midler in “Beaches,” she’s a real life neuroscientist who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Neuroscience from UCLA.
“I love playing the sweet and brainy Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler who has a quirky relationship with Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Emmy-winning Jim Parsons),” she told me in a phone interview. “It shows a scientist’s softer side.”
Bialik feels the program humanizes geeks and shows that their lives are normal and fulfilling. This year, she’s the spokesperson for HerWorld, a nationwide DeVry University initiative that encourages young girls to pursue STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
More than 7,000 girls are expected to attend the month-long event that takes place in 22 cities. Ironically, Thursday evening’s episode was about this very topic – engaging young girls in the sciences.
“It was totally random that it appeared on the eve of HerWorld,” says Bialik, who was delighted at the coincidence. In fact, it was her biology tutor on the set of “Blossom” who first turned Bialik on to the sciences.
“I thought passion was reserved for literature and the arts,” she says. “I didn’t know you could feel that strongly about science until I fell in love with the neuron. It helps us understand the universe and the electrical properties of the mind and body.”
Bialik wants other young women to experience that same passion and prepare for careers in an expanding field. Although women in the STEM fields comprise only 25 percent today, a U.S. Department of Commerce study projects that jobs in the STEM fields will grow seven percent faster than those in other fields by 2018 when approximately 8 million STEM jobs are projected. The need will open up opportunities for qualified candidates of both sexes.
This is the sixteenth year of DeVry’s HerWorld, a month-long program that kicked off on March 8 in New York with Bialik as the keynote speaker. She told the audience of 300 girls about her own experience growing up in New York, the daughter of first generation Jewish immigrants, both school teachers, and her love of the sciences. She encouraged them to take a leap of faith and open their minds to the possibilities in the STEM fields.
“Girls often perceive the curriculum for these subjects as unapproachable,” she says. “HerWorld challenges the perception by giving teenage girls a place to experience the excitement of STEM subjects firsthand, and engages them in stories of successful women who are making a difference.”
Attendees interact with peers through hands-on workshops and confidence-boosting activities. They’ll also hear inspirational stories from women leaders in the field. In January, DeVry University launched STEM Career Assemblies to introduce more high school students to STEM subjects.
The assemblies are designed to spark students’ interest and curiosity by telling the story of “The Science and Technology Behind Team USA,” in partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). The first STEM Career Assemblies were held in Atlanta and Chicago.
In Atlanta, 700 freshmen and sophomores heard from USOC guest speaker, Terrence Trammell, a former Olympian hurdler and sprinter. In Chicago, more than 160 high school students from DeVry University’s Advantage Academy participated in two assemblies. They learned about the impact STEM had on former Olympian bobsledder, Jamie Moriarty, and the ways science helped Team U.S.A.’s efforts to increase velocity as they raced.
DeVry, one of the largest private sector universities in North America, integrates the arts, technology, business and science. Because faculty members work in the fields they teach, they can best prepare students for high-growth careers.
Bialik, the mother of two young boys aged four and seven, lives life on the fast track. In addition to starring in “The Big Bang Theory,” she also homeschools her children. During time off from the show, she’s teaches sciences to other kids in the homeschool community.
While pursuing her studies in college, Bialik was very active in UCLA Hillel, a Jewish organization, and led, composed and performed in an a cappella group of women, as well as being a dedicated student.
“A professor once told me that the way to get everything done is not to sleep much,” she says laughing. It’s a skill she learned at a young age and still practices today. While starring in “Blossom,” Bialik had a tutor on the set and attended school one week out of three when the program was on hiatus.
“I had to keep up and do everything everyone else did, so my days were really full,” she says. “As much fun as it is to be on ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ being a public figure who can promote a positive role in the sciences is a blessing,” says Bialik.
She is indeed a rare combination of celebrity and scientist. Read more about Bialik on her official Web site.