There are rumors of musician will.i.am sitting in on classes at MIT, going undetected by MIT students. Those rumors are true according to Lilly Kam ’04, product manager at will.i.am’s tech company i.am+. “He’s always admired MIT and its culture—he’s a big tech geek,” Kam says of the musician.
Kam first met will.i.am while she was working as product manager for a social media company in China. In 2012, when will.i.am 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 the musician and share her MIT background. “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 will.i.am’s i.am.angel foundation which aims to “transform lives through education, inspiration and opportunity.” To achieve this mission, Kam worked to develop FIRST Robotics teams in East LA, where will.i.am 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 by providing funding, resources, and guidance.
These days, Kam works for i.am+ as a product manager while still serving as STEM Advisor for the i.am.angel foundation. After her move to Los Angeles, Kam—who is the former vice-president of the MIT Club of Beijing and an educational counselor—began looking for ways to connect with the MIT community, but a busy schedule limited her opportunities. “I wanted to give back, so I began researching the extern program,” Kam says referring to the MIT Alumni Association Student/ Alumni Externship Program. Kam became a sponsor for externs last year, hosting five externs at the i.am.angel foundation. “The externs learned what it’s like to run a nonprofit, start 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,” she says.
This year, Kam will be supervising 10 externs from MIT. Six externs will continue the mission of i.am.angel foundation, with their positions funded by grants from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. Four externs will be working for i.am+. “The students working for i.am+ will be developing 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 and is looking for more opportunities to expose MIT students to her work. “There’s so much overlap with MIT alumni. I’m always looking for more ways to expose MIT students to unique opportunities,” she says.
Want to see what life is like working with MIT externs? Follow @mitalumni on Instagram this week as Lilly Kam takes over the account, sharing life and work with MIT externs at i.am.angel and i.am+. For more extern stories, follow the hashtag #mitextern.