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will.i.am acts like a sponge to promote STEM education

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A recurring theme during will.i.am’s appearance at the 2013 Esri User Conference on Monday in San Diego was that the music star tries to take the form of a sponge when it comes to sharing his worldly knowledge and experiences with children from the neighborhood where he grew up.

“I just try to sponge up my environment and then wring it out in Boyle Heights.”

For those who don’t know, Boyle Heights is a rather rough neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles. will.i.am spent his school days being bused to the much more affluent neighborhood of Palisades, but when the time came to direct the fortune he attained as one of the founding members of The Black Eyed Peas, he targeted Boyle Heights.

Given his celebrity status, will.i.am swims in powerful circles inhabited by world leaders, corporate titans and entrepreneurs working to change the world. He decided to harness the power of that population and established the i.am.angel foundation to address the education and housing issues challenging people like the residents of Boyle Heights. The Esri User Conference shined a spotlight on a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program the i.am.angel foundation sponsors at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights.

will.i.am preaches the power of STEM programs have to inspire students and give them skills that translate well into career opportunities. He also called on technology companies to help plant the seeds that will grow into a larger population of young students keen to achieve. As an example, will.i.am cited the success of a recent hack-a-thon his foundation sponsored, but he lamented the fact that the event was a one-off. If companies sponsor similar events more often, then students who take a liking to the experience will be given more opportunities to prosper, will.i.am says.

One company that has answered will.i.am’s call is Esri. Jack Dangermond, the co-founder of Esri, heard about will.i.am’s endeavors and decided to lend a hand by sponsoring some of i.am.angel foundation’s efforts. Esri develops Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software that is put to use in STEM programs around the country. “GIS is the key to STEM education,” says Enrique Legaspi, a teacher at Roosevelt High School.

will.i.am explained that he will soon head to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study computer science. He says that if he is going to talk the talk, he needs to walk the walk. “I don’t want to tell these kids to do STEM, then say ‘see you later’ and head to the club.”