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'Big Bang Theory' star shares passion for science

Life imitating art: Mayim Bialik (center, in green sweater) plays neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." Bialik herself holds a doctorate in neuroscience.

PHOENIX -- Mayim Bialik is more than just a major TV star, she's also a role model for young women interested in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Each week, we see her as Amy Farrah Fowler, the super-smart neurobiologist and girlfriend to Sheldon Cooper on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." Just as smart as she is on the small screen, she's also brilliant in real life.

"I actually arrived late to the field of science. I thought science was for boys and wasn't good at it naturally," Bialik said. "I thought I could never be good at it."

You could say she "blossomed" into the field.

Bialik discovered it was possible to like a career dominated by men while she played the role of Blossom Russo in NBC's sitcom "Blossom."

"I had a tutor when I was 15 who turned me on to the world of science and gave me the confidence and skill set to believe I could do it," she said.

After "Blossom," Bialik left acting for 12 years. During that time, she earned a BS in Neuroscience and Hebrew and Jewish Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2000. She then went on to the Ph.D program in Neuroscience, also at UCLA. Bialik completed her doctorate in 2007, which examined Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi Syndrome.

"I fell in love with the electrical properties of the neuron," she recalls of her first introductory class at UCLA.

It's that same love for science she wants other young women to experience.

"We really want to approach them in junior high and in high school," she said.

Even with her busy schedule taping new episodes of "The Big Bang Theory," which has just been renewed for three more seasons, she is taking the lead in being that role model for girls interested in STEM-related careers. Right now, she is partnering with DeVry University to advocate for girls in these fields during National HerWorld Month.

"We want to provide hands-on activities and mentorship opportunities for girls to get more interested," said Bialik.

This is DeVry University's 17th year of the HerWorld Campaign.

Showing girls examples of successful women in these male-dominated fields is what she hopes to accomplish, on- and off-camera.

"We need a women's voice and be equally represented," Bialik said.

DeVry University anticipates nearly eight million jobs will be available in STEM-related fields by the year 2020. According to the university's website, women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce.

Even though it didn't take a celebrity to inspire her to become a scientist, Bialik hopes encouragement for young girls can be presented not just by her own character on TV, but also from those closest to our youth.

"Cooking is a great example where you can teach about chemistry and about math," she explained.

It can start at home with parents taking each opportunity to explain how daily activities play into STEM activities. With evident passion in her voice, Bialik described how, by using our senses, we can experience the world. With a little support from parents and teachers, each experience can be a teachable moment.

"We can still understand how things work, we can still spend time in nature and make sure our kids get outside," she said.

As part of Devry's STEMready program, role models like Bialik show girls how tangible careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics really are. The project also aims at showing girls how to get there and what tools they'll need to accomplish it.

For more information on DeVry University's STEMready program you can visit devry.edu/STEMready.

As far as Bialik's own future after acting on "The Big Bang Theory," she sees herself as continuing to do STEM advocacy. Her two young boys, 5 and 8 years old, will also likely dictate her next projects, she explained.

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