The Big Bang Theory helped make scientists look cool on TV. Now the hit CBS/Warner Bris. TV sitcom and its executive producer Chuck Lorre are looking to help foster new generations of scientists with financial aid for low-income college students. Big Bang and the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation have established The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment at UCLA for undergraduate students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
The scholarship endowment has raised $4 million to date, including an initial donation from the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation combined with gifts from people associated with the show, including series stars, executive producers and crew, and partners such as WBTV and CBS.
Lorre called the scholarship a “natural evolution” to what he and his team have been doing on the show for eight years. “When we first discussed it, we realized that when Big Bang started, this freshman class were 10-year-old,” he said. “Some of them grew up watching the show, and maybe the show had influence on some of them choosing to pursue science as a lifetime goal. Wouldn’t it be great if we can help.”
The Big Bang Theory scholarship with launch with 20 students — mostly freshmen — for the 2015–16 academic year, with an additional five scholars to be added in each future academic year — in perpetuity.
While Caltech, where the Big Bang characters work, seemed like a logical choice for a Big Bang–branded scholarship, UCLA had more urgent financial aid needs, Lorre said. “Unlike Caltech, which is a much smaller, private operation, UCLA had a need for rich scholarships for high performing STEM students who financially are falling short for getting great education,” he said. “We had to decide how to best spend the money, and Caltech didn’t have the same need.” That said, Lorre and his team are looking at ideas to expand the scholarship to other institutions in and out of state, including Caltech.
The initial plan is to stay local (Big Bang is produced in Los Angeles), so “we get the opportunity to personally know the scholars,” Lorre said. The inaugural group of recipients will be announced in fall 2015 on the set of The Big Bang Theory, and they will likely have a continuous presence on the show, visiting from time to time. “We will meet the first 20 in the fall and will be able to give them personal attention,” Lorre said.
There’s additional existing connection between UCLA and The Big Bang Theory. The original idea to do something in the field of financial aid for deserving science students came from Lorre’s conversations with UCLA professor of physics and astronomy David Saltzberg, Ph.D., who serves as the show’s science consultant. Additionally, series star Mayim Bialik earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.
While made possible by the big financial rewards that come from having a hugely successful sitcom, The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment is slated to go on way beyond the lifespan of the show that started it. Lorre is confident that there is enough funds to keep supporting STEM students for years to come. “There is no end date,” he said.
Lorre is the second A-list comedy showrunner to back science education, joining Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane who has been a long-time supporter of the cause, including shepherding a new installment of Cosmos.