Will.i.am Works To Bring Equality To STEM Education With i.am.angel Foundation

Will.i.am Works To Bring Equality To STEM Education With i.am.angel Foundation

data activist will.i.am
(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

will.i.am, front man of the Grammy-award winning musicians The Black Eyed Peas, is working hard to balance the tech scales with his i.am.angel Foundation.

The organization’s annual foundation gala on Feb. 20 in Hollywood, California, not only entertained but raised $1.6 million for under-represented voices in STEM and STEAM — science, tech, engineering, arts and math.

“What the i.am.angel Foundation does with the help of such events is vital to increasing the pool of diversity candidates who will eventually enter the workforce, especially those with STEM skills,” Will told me. “Only 20 percent of under-served minority students that get accepted to college actually graduate — a statistic that is unacceptable.”

Over the past six years, will.i.am has applied his creative acumen and interest in technology to develop opportunities that will help shift the paradigm in the tech world today.

Having noticed that many in tech did not look like him, Will set out to change the picture. Through his creation and work in the will.i.am.angel Foundation, he and his team are able to offer a range of STEAM programs and opportunities to the underserved communities of Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles, Watts/South Central Los Angeles, and Ferguson, Missouri so that students from various socioeconomic conditions can compete for jobs of the present and future.

Programs include:

  • i.am FIRST, which brings robotics programs to the youth of Boyle Heights. Will partnered with inventor and FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen to encourage and celebrate engineering prowess of young tech minds.
  • i.am College Track, which provides social and academic support to Boyle Heights students from Roosevelt High School, where 98 percent of students who apply to college will be will be the first in their families to do so. College Track removes barriers that prevent students from earning their college degree through tutoring, academic workshops, SAT and ACT prep, student life opportunities, leadership and socio-emotional skills, scholarship guidance, college success mentoring, and emotional support during college.

“Equal access to quality education, including STEM skills that are in demand at companies in every community, is a social justice issue,” Will said. “When kids attend under-performing schools with outdated courses, they are being set up to fail, to drop out, go down the wrong path, and on their way to filling up cells in for-profit, privatized prisons.”

A large part of the funds are raised during the annual TRANS4M Gala, which honored noted tech entrepreneur and investor Sean Parker.

After cocktails and touring of student exhibits and projects, attendees were seated at various tables at Milk Studios for dinner, an intimate on-stage Q&A with Parker and Will, and performances by Earth, Wind & Fire and the Black Eyed Peas.

Approximately 350 guests were invited including TV show creators/producers Norman Lear and Jack Bender, actresses/activists Rosario Dawson and Goldie Hawn, music industry heavyweights Hans Zimmer and Moby, professional athletes and a variety of technorati from the Silicon Valley venture capital community such as Ron Conway. Sponsors included Salesforce, Emerson Collective, Chase and Angela Ahrends.

Work at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology is heavily dependent on STEM knowledge. Its chairman, Sean Parker, was honored during the gala.

“I’m very grateful to be honored tonight because I’m receiving it both from a foundation I admire and its thoughtful leader, will.i.am, who is paving the path for transformative change in education,” Parker said. “ … children everywhere deserve an equal opportunity to receive a quality education in an enriching environment.”

“When we motivate kids and keep them on a path to graduate from high school with top grades needed to get into college, and then support them through earning their four-year degrees (debt-free), we change more than one life – we lift up families, and entire communities,” Will said.