will.i.am Sings the Praises of STEM
STEM The pop music heavyweight is challenging America’s students to get excited about science, technology, engineering and math.
Most people know will.i.am as the frontman of the Grammy Award-winning group the Black Eyed Peas, but the singer is also passionate about education.
The "Scream and Shout" singer is specifically committed to STEM education, helping students as young as elementary school age learn science, technology, engineering and math.
“I wanted to get kids from my neighborhood on the path that’s about radical change to inspire them to learn coding, to take an interest in science, take an interest in engineering and advanced mathematics,” he says, explaining STEM students can tackle complex topics including sequencing the genome and creating geographic information system (GIS) maps of problems facing communities like diabetes or obesity in specific neighborhoods.
“What if we send kids to college and then give them a skill set so they’re not looking for jobs, but creating jobs when they graduate?”
Also a producer, director, entrepreneur and philanthropist, will.i.am was inspired to help transform the education system after seeing the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” which is about the failures of public education in America.
He began partnering with the superheroes in his life, through his i.am.angel foundation, which launched in 2009. The foundation helps students with college scholarships, financial literacy and college prep.
The i.am.angel foundation and California Endowment collaborated on i.am College Track, a national college completion program that inspires and empowers kids from underserved communities to attend and graduate from college.
The program started with 60 kids and now has almost 300, as well as a waiting list. “Our kids went from having a .72 GPA to now having a 3.5 to 4.0,” says will.i.am.
“What if we send kids to college and then give them a skill set so they’re not looking for jobs, but creating jobs when they graduate?” he asks, noting technology is evolving but many tech jobs aren’t filled because applicants don’t have the needed skills.
Building a tech culture
will.i.am encourages the U.S. to support tech and educational achievements the same way we celebrate Hollywood or sports.
“There is no draft on TV when somebody goes from Stanford to Lockheed Martin,” will.i.am says, “America needs to start building a culture around tech.”
Cracking the code
He encourages students to learn code, a tool that is growing more valuable.
“Digital and tech literacy is important for tomorrow,” will.i.am explains, “there’s a new language being written and spoken and interacted with. That language is code. Reading and writing code changes the world.”
will.i.am urges parents and educators to create after school programs known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which teaches and encourages kids from kindergarten through high school to learn about and use engineering and technology.
“Give kids today’s tools to imagine and bring tomorrow closer,” he says.