Dr. Mayim Bialik is straightforward when she talks about science and math education.
Simply put, The Big Bang Theory actress—and neuroscientist—thinks the United States needs to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education a priority, and she’s happy to talk to President Barack Obama about it.
“I think when you look at the statistics of which percentage of jobs will require a background in math and science, it’s about 70 percent,” Bialik says in an interview. “That is speaking to an absolute need for STEM education.”
Bialik sees the importance of STEM education for all students, but especially for young girls who may think such “boy” subjects are not for them.
“Math, science, engineering, and technology are for everyone, but there’s this general notion that these are boy fields and girls think, ‘I can’t do this,’ ” she says. But some kids just need to be taught in a different way.
She confesses that she wasn’t a math or science whiz as child, but a biology tutor ignited her passion for the subjects.
While appearing on the hit 1990s show Blossom, Bialik was introduced to a dental student at UCLA who doubled as a tutor.
“She taught me in a way that I understood concepts,” Bialik says. “She offered practical application and gave me confidence even if I hadn’t been interested before.”
The tutor taught her the creative side of science by having Bialik draw cells repeatedly and create models of science structures. “She had me model it out of Styrofoam,” Bialik says. “She really gave a full portrait instead of simply memorizing.”
From there, Bialik went on to study at UCLA and earn a doctorate degree in neuroscience. Science even connected Bialik to her future husband. The two met in a UCLA calculus class when they had a shared love for Texas Instruments calculators.
“I had the TI-81 and he had TI-82,” she says.
The Big Bang Theory shows a side of scientists that is real, says Bialik, who plays neurobiologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler. The characters date and have social lives. They are funny and entertaining. They’re not the stereotypical science geeks commonly seen in entertainment. And that’s a good thing.
“This is a group of characters. None of them are medicated, but they deal with their quirks and neuroses,” she says. “They are functioning as normal human beings who are successful.”
Being a scientist is a wonderful and creative way to live your life.
Bialik is such a strong advocate for education technology in math and science that she has become a brand ambassador and spokeswoman for Texas Instruments. Bialik says she relied on her calculators throughout her education, and other students shouldn’t be afraid to do so either.
“We have technology at a very young age now that teaches what it’s like to be a scientist,” she says. “One of the things I was missing was technology. You can simulate science experiments. You don’t have to wait to get to high school and get into it [science] later like I did.”
In March, she attended TI’s 24th Annual T³™ International Conference in Chicago. Nearly 2,000 educators from around the world assembled to learn innovative and effective ways to teach with technology and improve student success in math and science. Bialik, who hails from a family of teachers, met with many of educators at the conference to discuss technology, especially the handheld TI-Nspire CX in the classroom.
“Being a scientist is a wonderful and creative way to live your life,” she says. “It’s a creative life and opens up tremendous opportunities. It’s a cool way to look at the world. It’s a beautiful thing to know how waves keep crashing and what it means to see a shooting star.”