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An even Bigger Bang: Chuck Lorre’s $24.5 million gift to empower low-income STEM students

New UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program will boost scholarship funding and cultivate leaders in science and technology

By Jonathan Riggs

Key takeaways

  • A $24.5 million pledge from The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation will increase the existing endowment for Big Bang Theory Scholarships at UCLA and fund a new program with comprehensive “wraparound” services and resources for scholarship recipients.
  • The UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program will offer four years of scholarship, mentorship, and other support services beginning the summer before freshman year, as well as opportunities for graduate school funding.
  • The gift will double the amount of undergraduate scholarship recipients with financial need to 80 each year and will transform leadership in STEM fields through greater inclusivity.

From left: Television producer and co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory” Chuck Lorre, UCLA Dean of Undergraduate Education Adriana Galván and UCLA Chancellor Block celebrate the launch of the UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program. (Image courtesy: Todd Cheney)

This article was originally published by UCLA Newsroom

First-generation American Jack Reid dreamed of going to UCLA but didn’t think it would be possible financially. In fact, to avoid burdening the family’s limited resources, one of his older sisters had chosen to forgo higher education entirely.

So when the aspiring scientist was notified that he had earned one of UCLA’s Big Bang Theory Scholarships for low-income STEM students — scholarships endowed largely by the family foundation of Chuck Lorre, co-creator of the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” — he and his family celebrated the life-changing news with a joy that still resonates four years later.

“It meant everything to know that UCLA and The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation believed in me enough to give me this incredible opportunity,” said Reid, today a UCLA microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics major. “I can focus on following my dreams and not on all the obstacles that could have held me and my fellow scholarship recipients back.”

Now, with a pledge of $24.5 million from The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation to expand the program’s resources and services, the impact on UCLA students like Reid will grow exponentially.

The gift will fund the creation of the UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program, a comprehensive leadership development program for undergraduates with high financial need who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program will offer scholarship, mentorship and support services to students from the summer before freshman year through to graduate school preparation — as well as up to five years of fellowship funding for program scholars who continue on to graduate studies in STEM fields.

Chuck Lorre (back row, left) with UCLA Big Bang Theory scholars and cast and crew members on the set of “The Big Bang Theory” in 2016. (Image courtesy: Mike Yarish/Warner Bros. Television)

And by adding significantly to The Big Bang Theory Scholarship endowment, originally established in 2015 and enhanced in 2019 to also include graduate fellowships, the gift will allow UCLA to double the number of undergraduate scholars supported — up to 80 each year in perpetuity.

“We are grateful to The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation for helping students in need excel as scholars and leaders,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “The UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program advances our shared goal of transforming STEM through greater inclusivity.”

Among the most influential producers in television history, Lorre has created and produced a slew of successful shows, including “Two and a Half Men,” “The Kominsky Method,” “Mom,” “Young Sheldon” and, of course, “The Big Bang Theory” (2007–19), which followed the lives of a group of young scientists and became one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.

“With the growing success of our Big Bang Theory scholars and the community they have built, it was the right time to expand our support to impact even more students by providing additional leadership and wraparound services,” Lorre said. “I am in awe of our scholars and graduate fellows who are poised to reshape the face of STEM. In the immortal words of Timbuk 3, ‘The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.’”

The Lorre family foundation’s newest investment is a testament to the achievements of The Big Bang Theory Scholarship program, which was unique in that its endowment was originally funded by both the Lorre family foundation and more 50 cast and crew members, producers, and writers of “The Big Bang Theory,” as well as the show’s studio and network and several corporate partners. Scholars in the program were regularly invited to visit set of the show to get to know the actors, producers and dozens of other benefactors, including actress Mayim Bialik, who graduated from UCLA with a doctorate in neuroscience, and David Saltzberg, a UCLA physics professor who served as the program’s science consultant

To date, The Big Bang Theory Scholarship program has supported 78 STEM students, including 35 current undergraduate scholars and 16 graduate fellows. Of the 78 scholarship recipients, 37 have earned bachelor’s degrees from UCLA and 50% have been women.

“The built-in community aspect of this program gives you a strong foundation when you go to these classes with 300 people and recognize someone you can sit with and who understands exactly where you’re coming from,” said Reid, who is also the president of the Big Bang Theory Scholars Society student group. “A lot of us come in as first-generation college students, so it helps to have friends from the very first week of your freshman year. It really makes such a huge university a lot smaller.”

Ultimately, the UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program reflects an enduring, transformative investment in underserved students entering the STEM pipeline. Currently at UCLA, 58% of all undergraduates major in life sciences, physical sciences or engineering. More than a quarter of these students are the first in their household to attend college, and approximately half of them have demonstrated financial need, including nearly 30% on federal Pell Grants. These factors and others often make these students especially vulnerable to stressors that can prevent them from completing their degrees.

The distinctive elements and the holistic pathway approach of the UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program will enable its scholars and fellows to persist in pursuing their STEM degrees, complete them in a timely fashion and achieve their full potential, both at UCLA and in their future academic and professional pursuits.

“The UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program will support and empower the complete student,” said Adriana Galván, UCLA’s dean of undergraduate education. “We are incredibly thankful for Chuck Lorre’s vision, which dovetails perfectly with our own: to build well-rounded, lifelong learners who will further human knowledge with the compassion and conviction of UCLA’s highest ideals.

“By investing in the greatest possible resource — the limitless potential of our students and UCLA’s unparalleled ability to ensure they achieve it — The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation is investing in a better future for us all.”

The UCLA Chuck Lorre Scholars Program will provide its scholars with:

  • The opportunity to graduate debt-free thanks to four years of scholarship support.
  • A pre–freshman year summer bridge program to connect scholars with UCLA and Lorre program resources and communities, and with one another.
  • Up to $20,000 in fellowship funding per year for five years for program scholars who continue their studies in STEM graduate programs at UC campuses.
  • Advising, mentoring, networking and community-building programming and support, including a vibrant alumni community.
  • Enriching internship and research opportunities.
  • Enhanced engagement with STEM programs and opportunities at UCLA, including STEM-specific study abroad, undergraduate research, postgraduate preparation and UCLA’s Research Practice course series.
  • A dedicated program director and on-campus leadership, and support-group access through the Big Bang Theory Scholars Society.
  • Dedicated on-campus spaces for the program and its scholars at the California NanoSystems Institute.