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STEM, Students, and Will.i.am

Alumna brings MIT externs to work at the musician’s organizations.

Rumors of Will.i.am sitting in on classes at MIT undetected by students are true, according to Lilly Kam ’04, who works at the musician’s tech company I.am+. “He’s always admired MIT and its culture—he’s a big tech geek,” Kam says.

Kam first met Will.i.am while she was working as product manager for a social-media company in China. In 2012, when he headlined a concert in Beijing as part of the U.S. State Department’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, Kam got the chance to connect with him. “After I told him about my experiences, he said, ‘Oh, you should come work for me,’” she remembers.

After moving to Los Angeles, Kam began working at the musician’s I.am.angel foundation, which aims to “transform lives through education, inspiration and opportunity.” She worked to develop FIRST Robotics teams in East L.A., where he grew up. “We spent a lot of time building a strategy to successfully put together these teams, focusing on low-income areas,” she says. Kam and I.am.angel helped create 15 new FIRST teams, providing funding, resources, and guidance.

This story is part of the May/June 2016 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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Will.i.am and Lilly Kam ’04 (center) at a FIRST Robotics event with enthusiasts including professor emeritus Woodie ­Flowers ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73 (far right).­

These days, Kam works for I.am+ as a product manager while still serving as STEM advisor for the foundation. She also works with the MIT Alumni Association Student/Alumni Externship Program—a good way to fit MIT activities into her busy life in Los Angeles. In China, she had been vice president of the MIT Club of Beijing and an educational counselor. “I wanted to give back, so I began researching the extern program,” she says. Kam became a sponsor for externs in 2015, hosting five at the I.am.angel foundation. “The externs learned what it’s like to run a nonprofit, started FIRST teams for underserved communities, and got to visit a lot of the schools and shadow some of the teachers and coaches,” she says. “They learned about some of the struggles that inner-city schools face, especially when it comes to increasing STEM opportunities for students.”

This year, Kam supervised 10 externs from MIT. Six worked with the I.am.angel foundation, their positions funded by grants from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. Four worked for I.am+. “The students working for I.am+ helped develop apps for a wearable device. I’m challenging them to demo their apps to Will,” she says. Kam says Will.i.am often interacts with the externs, providing advice and encouragement.

Kam loves the experience of working with externs. “I’m always looking for more ways to expose MIT students to unique opportunities,” she says.

Want to work with MIT externs in your organization? Alumni are invited to become hosts and bring undergraduate and graduate students into their workplaces in January for one to four weeks. Alumni can learn more about the program and submit an application proposing externship positions beginning in July. Students, who apply in September, are matched to these job opportunities. Learn more online: alum.mit.edu/externships.

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Will.i.am and Lilly Kam ’04 (center) at a FIRST Robotics event with enthusiasts including professor emeritus Woodie ­Flowers ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73 (far right).­

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