The first class of students graduating in May from the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy at the University of Southern California will hear a commencement address from Black Eyed Peas co-founder will.i.am, who “personifies the spirit of cross-disciplinary innovation and creativity, which is the essence of the Academy,” says Erica Muhl, dean and founding executive director of the school.
Iovine and Young (Dr. Dre), with their history of success as record producers, entrepreneurs (with Beats By Dre) and digital music pioneers (with Apple), endowed the academy in 2013 with a $70 million gift to USC in Los Angeles. The first students enrolled in the fall of 2014 and will graduate May 11 with a unique bachelor of science of arts, technology and the business of innovation — a mix of disciplines that Iovine has called essential to industries of the future.
Will.i.am, a native of the working-class Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, was chosen as a speaker by the academy, in recognition of his work as a musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
“His drive to transform our world through his art, his support of groundbreaking technologies and his philanthropic pursuits make him qualified to guide our first graduating class as they begin their own individual, creative journeys,” says Muhl.
In addition to his success with the Black Eyed Peas — the group spent a combined 26 consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009 with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” — as an entrepreneur, will.i.am has founded and operates several companies across the sectors of technology, consumer electronics and fashion accessories. His technology company, I.AM+, is focused on artificial intelligence in the business environment, as well as smarter consumer products. He is also co-founder and partner in ill.i Optics, an eyewear company.
He has worked as an advisor with technology and consumer products companies worldwide, including the mobile record company Amuse; Atom Bank, the U.K.’s first mobile-based bank; the Coca-Cola Company; and Intel and Beats Electronics, where he was a founding equity shareholder.
In the realm of philanthropy, will.i.am started the i.am angel Foundation in 2009 with a stated mission “to TRANS4M lives through education, inspiration and opportunity.” The private foundation provides assistance to needy college-bound students, and supports programs that provide college scholarships (i.am scholarship), college preparation (i.am College Track, and the Boyle Heights STEM Academy) and educational enrichment opportunities in STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). The i.am angel Foundation funds STEM education programs in under-served communities of Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles, Watts/South Central Los Angeles and Ferguson, Missouri.
For the Iovine and Young Academy, this commencement is a milestone in the school’s journey to create a new cross-disciplinary model of higher education. “The Degree Is In Disruption,” read T-shirts worn by members of this graduating class when they were freshmen.
“Our inaugural graduates are trailblazers who, through courage and audacity, breathed life into this revolutionary new program,” says Muhl of the Academy’s first class of students. “It took a special type of entrepreneur to step into an unknown, even one that was backed by the intellectual and disciplinary strength of four schools at USC… It is with this same entrepreneurial spirit that these graduates will challenge traditional thinking wherever they go, and inspire change and transformation toward a better future for us all.”