The keynote address on the second day of DESIGN West 2013 was delivered not by an inventor, high-tech luminary or even an engineer, but the Emmy-nominated star of one of television's most popular sitcoms.
There's a catch, of course. In addition to holding down a starring role on The Big Band Theory—a sitcom that has a big following among engineers—Mayim Bialik also earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Bialik treated DESIGN West attendees Wednesday (April 24) to a captivating hour-long discussion on topics ranging from her life in show businesses to her passion for neuroscience to a cause she believes in deeply, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
For more than a year, Bialik has served as a spokeswoman for Texas Instruments Inc.'s TI-Nspire CX math and science learning technology. Her stated role in this capacity is to inspire teens to pursue STEM education and careers.
Bialik, like many people, believes it is important to encourage more young people to develop an interest in and passion for science. She believes its particularly important to encourage girls to look at STEM, because she says cultural forces in the U.S. push girls away from science at a very early age.
Bialik poses with a TI calculator.
With so much focus now on the importance of STEM education, Bialik said she is encouraged that discussions about STEM are trickling up to the highest levels of government. "The fact that its being spoken about like that at the White House level is important," she said.
Bialik largely deflected questions on the nuts and bolts of getting more young people excited about STEM education, saying questions on curriculum and the structure of education were best left to more qualified people. But she did say she believes in a practical, very hands-on approach to the topic.
"Simply telling people that STEM is important and that you can get a career in STEM doesn't work," Bialik said.
"Ultimately, though, she chose to go back into acting to allow her to spend more time with her sons, a decision she called intensely personal."
So a science or engineering career is too demanding and/or does not pay enough to support a family. And for this we need more STEM education, maybe we need less.
@resistion- I hear what you are saying. I thought about that a couple of times during her talk- it's kind of ironic that someone who makes a living as a TV star--the very thing that many people say we as a society glamorize way too much at the expense of honorable professions such as engineering--would be passionate about the virtues of STEM education. Let's agree on this--we would all like to make a living working on a sitcom. Here's a person who did that, still got a PhD, then decided to go back to acting because she could. Now that she has visibility, she's using it to push an agenda that says STEM education is a viable choice for many, many young people, including women. I respect that.
bobzz, I did not read in the article that science/engineering careers are too demanding (or pay enough) to support a family. Instead I read that Bialik choose to be at home to raise her children, this is in of itself also a courageous thing given the cultures view of careers vs stay at home moms.
Good choice for speaker; glad she was tagged to inspire audience. The committee did a service to the community by choosing Bialik. Would have been interesting to gauge listeners as they exited; what did the EEs think about the keynote?
Yes, I see your point. And maybe for an audience of engineers even more so. But her typcial audience is more hetergeneous, and many young people in particular can relate to her and realize that if she thinks STEM is "ccol" maybe they should not completely dismiss a career in a STEM field.