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Will.i.am’s amazing endorsement of STEM education

The hip hop and pop culture legend is now a creative executive in the middle market, and it isn’t his first corporate gig.

What happens when you pair Grammy-award winning musician, Black Eyed Peas front man, and STEM advocate will.i.am with a mid-market 3D printing company? A surge of innovation.

The middle market’s 3D Systems (3DS) named will.i.am its chief creative officer in January. Since then, the company has printed a whale fossil for the Smithsonian, a 3D portrait of President Obama, tiny surgical tools to save newborns, and fashion conscious back braces for kids with scoliosis.

Last month, the company unveiled its new edge – the power of will.i.am to partner with major brands and put its technology into consumers’ hands. Partnering with Coca-Cola, will.i.am and 3DS revealed the first product from their new relationship – a 3D consumer printer called the Ekocycle Cube that uses recycled coke bottles to create cell phone cases, plastic jewelry, robots, and whatever else you can imagine.

“We will make it cool to recycle, and we will make it cool to make products using recycled materials. This is the beginning of a more sustainable 3-D-printed lifestyle,” said will.i.am. “Waste is only waste if we waste it.”

3DS also launched a new iSense 3D Scanner for photographers of all skill levels that uses an iPad to take photos of objects of any size, and transform them into printable 3D designs.

For 3DS, the partnership is paying off. At its 2014 Investor Day, the company forecasted $1 billion in annual revenue for 2015 driven by at least 30 percent organic growth; lifted the curtain on a new “racetrack” 3D printer that can print 50x faster than current technologies, and thanks in part to will.i.am, projected a strong boost in consumer revenues for the second half of this year.

Long before he arrived at 3DS, will.i.am had a history of adding a pop-culture edge to once-nerdy technologies. Long before the Black Eyed Peas, he attended a science magnet school. Today, his i.am.angel foundation provides STEM education to underprivileged kids.

In a recent interview, the musician says he was inspired by the 2010 education reform movie “Waiting for Superman” which featured poorly performing schools in the Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up. “STEM, to me, is the solution for schools and neighborhoods like mine,” will.i.am told U.S. News & World Report. “Thank God that it’s a subject making its way to popular culture because for some reason popular culture forgot the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” he added.

Will.i.am also has a knack for merging art and science: in 2012, NASA beamed his song “Reach for the Stars” from Mars to Earth. The song was created with a 40-piece orchestra to showcase the art of human musicians over a computer-generated dance beat, and sung in parts by a children’s choir to inspire kids.

To keep that inspiration flowing, 3DS and will.i.am are providing more than 1,500 Ekocycle Cube 3D printers to 125,000 middle school and high school students who are participating in FIRST Robotics Competitions and Tech Challenge teams across the country.

The partners also hope to tackle the broader issue of youth unemployment by using STEM education to connect America’s one-in-five unemployed youth with hard-to-fill technical and manufacturing positions. And they’ll start with innovative consumer products that make making things cool once more.

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