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‘The Big Bang Theory’ creator’s $24.5M pledge expands universe for Bruins in STEM

Recipients of The Big Bang Theory Scholarship pose with the cast and crew of “The Big Bang Theory” and the show’s co-creator Chuck Lorre. A $24.5 million donation will expand the scholarship program, which helps low-income students pursuing education in STEM fields. (Courtesy of Mike Yarish/Warner Bros. Television)

By Eva Danesh

March 7, 2024 9:58 p.m.

A $24.5 million pledge from “The Big Bang Theory” co-creator Chuck Lorre’s foundation is set to create a new universe for Bruins in STEM.

The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation has provided scholarships, mentorship and support to incoming freshmen with financial need via The Big Bang Theory Scholarship since 2015.

With the endowment, the number of students supported by the newly established Lorre Scholars Program at UCLA – which funds recipients’ undergraduate education and up to five years of fellowship funding if they pursue graduate studies in STEM fields – will double to 80 students each year indefinitely, according to a UCLA press release.

The program was initially funded by the Lorre Family Foundation as well as around 50 members of the show’s cast, crew, producers and writers, in addition to its studio and network. The show’s Bruins include cast member Mayim Bialik, who received undergraduate and doctoral degrees in neuroscience at UCLA, and its science consultant David Saltzberg, a professor of physics and astronomy.

Lorre co-created and produced several television series over the past two decades, including “Two and a Half Men,” “The Kominsky Method” and “Young Sheldon.” “The Big Bang Theory,” a sitcom that ran from 2007 to 2019, followed the life and relationships of theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper and his group of scientist friends, which included an aerospace engineer, experimental physicist and Bialik as a neuroscientist – true to her real-life degree.

[Related: Cast, producers reflect on “Young Sheldon” coming to an end after seven seasons]

In creating the show, Lorre showed how scientists need a community just like everyone else, said Gina Poe, the inaugural faculty chair of the Lorre Scholars Program.

“This scholarship is forming a community among the scholars that is akin to that shown on the show,” she said. “People form relationships that can last their entire lifetime.”

Poe, a neurobiologist and professor of integrative biology and physiology, said the scholarship has covered much of students’ tuition and provided stipends for housing and working in research laboratories. She added that it has helped students fulfill their dreams of pursuing an affordable STEM education and graduate school.

Poe said the donation will also allow for the hiring of a program director fully dedicated to enhancing the experience of Lorre Scholars and creating more opportunities for Bruins in STEM.

One of the program’s main goals is to expand opportunities for students to study and work in laboratories internationally, Poe said. She added that STEM students tend to miss out on these experiences, as few of the courses and activities they need are currently offered abroad.

The funding will also create new support services, such as deepening alumni connections and creating a single database of cross-discipline opportunities, said Poe, who joined UCLA in 2016 in part to lead programs that support students in taking advantage of internships and working in labs.

“In order to do these wraparound services for the Lorre Scholars, we’ll be able to assemble all these rich experiences that all of the STEM scholars could take advantage of and see in one coherent place,” Poe said. “It might lead to all kinds of policy changes and coherence between departments and programs and majors.”

(Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom)
(Left to right) Chuck Lorre, Dean of Undergraduate Education Adriana Galván and Chancellor Gene Block pose for a picture. (Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom)

Karrin Evans, a third-year neuroscience student and a current scholarship recipient, said the award made it feasible for her to attend UCLA, adding that it has allowed her to join a community of people passionate about STEM.

“These are other people who are excellent people in their field,” Evans said. “They are so passionate about STEM, and being in community with them really makes you want to increase your own passion about what you want to do.”

Evans said she currently studies sensory over-responsivity in children with autism. She plans to expand on her work by attending graduate school, with the goal of studying how educational interventions affect the brain and then applying her research to impact special education.

[Related: Warner Bros. announces ‘Big Bang Theory’ scholarship for UCLA students]

Scholars have also had the opportunity to form a community of their own.

While “The Big Bang Theory” was still in production, the scholars were invited on set to watch a live taping and get to know the cast and crew. Scholar Christian Aguilar said his cohort visited the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood and had lunch with Lorre and Bialik, where they discussed life at UCLA and Bialik’s experiences as a Bruin.

Similar meetings continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Evans said when she was selected for the scholarship, she was mailed a box and instructed to keep it closed until she met with Lorre on Zoom.

“We all opened them at the same time, and they were these iPad pros,” she said.

[Related: Recipients of The Big Bang Theory Scholarship bond with cast on set]

Like Evans, Aguilar – who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2023 and is currently a first-year computer science graduate student – said the scholarship gave him financial stability, adding that he did not have to immediately worry about finding jobs outside of school to support himself.

Instead, Aguilar said he was able to explore research opportunities and engage in other experiences, including being a member of the UCLA marching band.

Aguilar said although he initially planned to use his bachelor’s degree to enter the workforce, the scholarship allowed him to immediately transition into graduate school and continue his research – which involves building software to help increase access to reliable and clean drinking water.

“That freedom of flexibility was extremely valuable,” Aguilar said. “It helped form my experience into what it was, and I probably wouldn’t have sought out graduate school had I not had the support of the fellowship.”

Evans said the confidence that her cohort and Lorre have in her motivates her to keep working toward her goals.

“I always want to do well in classes,” she said. “Not just for myself, but for my cohort, for the scholarship community as a whole – and especially for Chuck Lorre and the rest of his team that took a look at me on paper and thought, ‘This is someone whose future that we’re interested in.’”

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