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will.i.am’s Inspiring Young Minds

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will.i.am’s Passion for STEM Shines at the 2023 FIRST Inspire Gala in Miami Beach: A Night of Innovation, Music, and Education Excellence.

December 6th, 2023

In a resounding fusion of music, technology, and philanthropy, the 2023 FIRST Inspire Gala, a collaborative effort between youth-serving nonprofits FIRST® and the i.am/Angel Foundation, took center stage at the illustrious Loews Miami Beach Hotel on December 6. This annual celebration marked a triumphant ode to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and its pivotal role in shaping the young minds of today.

The gala unfolded against the backdrop of Art Basel Miami, drawing luminaries from the worlds of STEM education and industry. Chaired by Dean Kamen, Founder of FIRST and President of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, and will.i.am, the multifaceted musician, tech entrepreneur, and philanthropist, the event sparkled with star-studded allure and purposeful vigor.

Notable attendees included influential figures such as Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox Corporation; Melissa Smith, a stalwart in the STEM advocacy space; Nadja Sayej, renowned art curator and commentator; Mike Bezos, a notable figure in philanthropy and father to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; Eliad Cohen, a prominent advocate for STEM education; Chris Moore, a respected entrepreneur and philanthropist; and George Clinton, a legendary musician with an enduring commitment to innovation, graced the event with their presence.

(L to R) will.i.am and George Clinton

will.i.am, the multifaceted musician, tech entrepreneur, and philanthropist, shared insights on the advice and guidance he received from his mother, emphasizing the importance of education.

“First, I went to a science magnet school,” he said. “My school taught us computer science, physics, and oceanography at an early age. So, before I was into music, I was into some form of STEM education. Music was a way for me to express myself when I got a little older. I was at a magnet program from 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. 15 is when I really fell in love with music. By 17, I had a record deal, but education was always first in my life. When I fell in love with music, I realized my passion and my calling. And with that success, I went back to my community and started a college prep program and robotics science programs. Started with 65 kids, now serving around 13,000 students. Music changed my life. My mom was a mentor to keep me on track and keep me away from trouble. Both my education and my music were a way to keep me out of trouble, especially when you live in a community that’s troubled.”

“The reason why I love robotics is because it’s a pathway for kids to apply themselves,” he continued. “While applying themselves, solving problems, they are getting the skill sets to not only solve tomorrow’s problems, but they have the ability to create tomorrow’s industries and fill jobs that are of the future. Especially going into your neighborhoods where a kid doesn’t have to leave their neighborhood to get an education. For me, I was one of those kids that left my neighborhood to get a better education by going to a better neighborhood. I thank my mom for having the foresight to send me off.”

“Now I want people to love their community and bring the skill sets and the tools to their community,” will.i.am elaborated. “Because every single hood eventually gets gentrified. Brooklyn. Every single hood eventually gets gentrified. Boyle Heights. But if you can transform the hood coming within that doesn’t drive people out and just brings them up. So yeah, that’s my whole mission.”

Highlights of the evening included a captivating red carpet adorned by these luminaries, riveting robot demonstrations by local students, and an inspirational program showcasing the myriad ways in which FIRST empowers students. Dean Kamen, a fervent advocate for STEM education, expressed the transformative impact of FIRST on students, emphasizing the development of critical skills, exploration of career possibilities, and the carving of individual life paths.

The event featured a fireside chat between Dean Kamen and will.i.am, delving into the current state of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education for young minds and its profound impact on the future. will.i.am, founder of the i.am/Angel Foundation, passionately underlined the opportunities FIRST provides for students to acquire career and life skills, collaborate in teams, and become part of a global community empowered to design a better world.

(L to R): will.i.am and Dean Kamen

A special tribute unfolded at the gala, recognizing Ursula Burns for her unwavering commitment to FIRST. As a member of the FIRST Board of Directors since 2000, Burns graciously shared her time with students at FIRST events and served as a mentor to FIRST alumni in their careers. Her tenure as the CEO of Xerox Corporation from 2009 to 2016 further exemplifies her leadership in transforming the company into the world’s most diversified business services entity.

The gala also welcomed students from various FIRST teams, including Robotics Competition Team 59 “RamTech” and Tech Challenge Team 16484 “ROBOCANES,” showcasing the diverse impact of STEM education across different age groups and programs.

Notably, the Gala raised funds to support the FIRST mission, directing proceeds toward making STEM programs more accessible globally, particularly to underserved and underrepresented populations. The collaboration between the i.am/Angel Foundation and FIRST headquarters initiatives promises to inspire and support young minds on their educational journeys.

(L to R): will.i.am and Dean Kamen

To learn more about FIRST, donate, or contribute to this transformative cause, please visit https://www.firstinspires.org/. The 2023 FIRST Inspire Gala stands as a testament to the collaborative force of will.i.am and First Robotics, igniting the flame of STEM education that will continue to illuminate the paths of countless young innovators around the world.

About FIRST
FIRST® is a robotics community that prepares young people for the future through a suite of inclusive, team-based robotics programs for ages 4-18 (PreK-12) that can be facilitated in school or in structured afterschool programs. Boosted by a global support system of volunteers, educators, and sponsors that include over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, teams operate under a signature set of FIRST Core Values to conduct research, fundraise, design, build, and showcase their achievements during annual challenges. An international not-for-profit organization founded by accomplished inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST has a proven impact on STEM learning, interest, and skill-building well beyond high school. Participants and alumni of FIRST programs gain access to education and career discovery opportunities, connections to exclusive scholarships and employers, and a place in the FIRST community for life. Learn more at firstinspires.org.

Pictured: FIRST® team with will.i.am and Dean Kamen

About i.am/Angel Foundation
As part of his commitment to philanthropy, will.i.am launched the i.am Angel Foundation in 2009 to TRANS4M lives through education, inspiration and opportunity. The foundation administers charitable activities and programs targeted towards providing college scholarships (i.am scholarship), college preparation (i.am College Track), and opportunities in STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). The i.am Angel Foundation is especially committed to transforming will.i.am’s hometown of Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. Boyle Heights is a predominantly low-income, working class, immigrant community that is rich in culture and potential, but struggling with a lack of resources and opportunities. The i.am/Angel Foundation strives to turn Boyle Heights into a model for other communities around the world.  Visit i.am/Angel Foundation for more information.

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