From STEMConnector, originally posted on April 26, 2013:
This morning at the FIRST Robotics Championship, Dean Kamen welcomed FIRST’s most famous supporter to the stage during the Opening Ceremonies, to the roar of the 30,000 attendees at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. But to FIRST participants, will.i.am isn’t just a famous pop star; he’s their biggest cheerleader.
will.i.am has a long history of supporting STEM, whether it be broadcasting his songs into space with NASAor donating his time and money to The Science Museum in London. Nonetheless, it has always been clear that FIRST is what is most inspiring to him. Indeed, as Dean Kamen presented will.i.am with this inaugural “Make It Loud” Award, he credited the students of FIRST as his greatest inspiration for going back to college to study computer science. During his address to the crowd, he encouraged students to continue pursuing STEM, saying that the next great superstars of tomorrow are not going to be entertainers or athletes, but innovators and thinkers. He believes that we’re entering an era similar to the 1920s, and America is in need of the Edison or Tesla.
Later in the day I attended a press conference where will.i.am doubled down on his message. Mentioning last night’s start of the NFL Draft, he talked about how kids grow up wanting to be famous athletes and musicians, but what we really need is for kids to have STEM professionals such as Mark Zuckerberg as their true role models. He said, “In a way, America is still a developing country,” because we are not educating our kids to be global innovators.
To will.i.am, “Make it Loud” means getting the message of STEM out there and showing the world why events like FIRST Robotics are what is really cool. Speaking personally, he said people in music or fashion today weren’t necessarily cool when they were kids, but because of the dedication to their craft and the way they express that passion, they were able to succeed. Our job is to identify those kids who are expressing themselves through making and inventing things, because that is how we truly make STEM loud.
Asked why FIRST stands out from other STEM competitions, will.i.am talked about the culture FIRST has created. 400 teams are here in St. Louis from all over the world and from diverse communities across America, yet the culture here at the Championship is singularly united in its passion for robotics. One of will.i.am’s driving factors for promoting STEM is to transform Boyle Heights in East LA, the neighborhood where he grew up. During the press conference, he announced he hopes to help that transformation by sponsoring an FRC Team. He even brought Karley with him to St. Louis, a high school girl from Boyle Heights who will lead the team. Asked about her time here this weekend, Karley said, “I thought I was the only one like me.” Thanks to Will, Karley knows she’s not alone. And with his sponsorships, Karley hopes to be at the Championship next year, with a team of other kids transforming Boyle Heights and a robot ready to win it all!