With Iovine’s history as a hitmaking engineer and producer (Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, U2) and head of Interscope Records, and Dre’s platinum-plated career as a rapper, producer and record executive (N.W.A.,The Chronic, Eminem, Aftermath Entertainment), the two teamed up in 2006 to create Beats Electronics, marketing Beats By Dre headphones. After the launch of Beats Music, one of the first music streaming services, Apple in May 2014 announced its purchase of Beats for $3 billion.
While at Beats, says Iovine, he and Dre first encountered the difficulty of hiring staff equally conversant in technology and the arts, specifically music. “And I just said, “Why don’t we start a school and we’ll blend these disciplines.”
During early conversations with USC, Iovine met Erica Muhl, an accomplished composer of contemporary classical music who, at that time, was dean of the Roski School of Art and Design. Muhl became the first executive director of the Iovine Young Academy and, last July, its new dean when the academy was named the university’s newest professional school -- only the 20th full-standing school in USC’s 140-year history.
“Erica got it,” recalled Iovine, of Muhl’s understanding and enthusiasm for the cross-disciplinary program. “It was our idea, but she created the school. It’s something that’s really never been done before.”
The newly opened Iovine and Young Hall is a three-floor, 40,000-square-foot manifestation of the vision that its music entrepreneurs had for a school at the intersection of arts and technology. (The concept of intersection is even incorporated into its design of the building. It is geographically located where the historic northeast-angled streets of the USC campus meet the north-south street grid of modern-day Los Angeles. A grand central stairway sits at the junction point).
The new building’s interior design reflects the academy’s mission “because the school is collaborative,” says Iovine.
Muhl expands on the point: “As you walk through the building,” she says, “you can see open spaces, glass instead of drywall, communal work stations and a basic flow that has students running into each other all the time, which we hope will also encourage spontaneous conversations and, eventually, spontaneous invention and innovation. So there was a great deal of thought behind how the building would work with everything that the students are hoping to be able to develop for their futures -- and for ours, frankly.”
That bold statement is backed up by the range of fields academy students are exploring -- from health (through a newly introduced minor) to fighting homelessness (through a social-impact fashion brand) to confronting climate change (through a carbon offset venture now backed by the business incubator YCombinator).
“What was inherent in in Jimmy and Dre’s early vision was an education that would allow students to be able to look at problems differently,” says Muhl. As the academy has explored new fields, “the growth into these areas was organic,” she says, “both from a stand point of the students’ interest and the fact that both the curriculum and USC, as a major research institution, made that easy.”
Iovine and Young Hall also includes state-of-the-art “maker spaces” with fabrication equipment, 3D printing, a multimedia lab and more -- like a shop class on steroids.
“I don’t think there’s any accident that I was one of the few women in my high school to take auto shop” jokes Muhl. She notes, more seriously, “ I grew up in very hands-on environments and, of course as a composer over the years, I developed a great respect for the idea of making and critiquing. We do believe in a 'make, fail, learn, iterate’ approach. Our students seem to love that. They really appreciate being able to take knowledge and apply it as quickly as they possibly and, from applying it, they learn things that can never be learned in just [a classroom] investigation.”
The Iovine Young Academy this fall has just admitted its sixth incoming class, or cohort, and its most diverse yet, with 62% students of color. “We we seek to create, with every cohort, a very broad representation of ethnicity, gender, background, viewpoint and also life goals, and how these students see their role in the world,” says Muhl. “We believe that diversity in all its forms is essential to the development of truly great solutions.”
Iovine emphasizes that he and Dre, aside from endowing the academy, remain deeply involved in its development. “You know, now that I'm retired, I’m really involved,” he says.
Iovine stepped down in 2018 from his full-time role at Apple, and continues to serve as a consultant to the company. But when his use of the word “retired” is met with skepticism, he laughs. “Can I tell you something? No one believes me! I get asked every day: 'What are you doing? What are you doing?’”
One thing he is doing is focusing on the next move of the Iovine Young Academy.
“I believe most kids in our country are leaning [toward] multiple disciplines,” says Iovine. “That’s because they grow up with technology and the arts. So this is a natural thing for them. That’s why we did what we did [with USC] and why we’re going to go to [the level of] high school to get the kids younger. We really care about [creating] the high school,” says Iovine.
Muhl notes that the Iovine Young Academy currently welcomes high school students during summer sessions run on campus by Teens Experiencing Technology or TXT, which seeks to empower young black and Latino boys to become tech entrepreneurs. The academy has also partnered with Apple Professional Learning to share its model of education with other educators.
“We also work anywhere we are invited inside the K-12 environment, to bring what we feel we have learned about educating this generation students into not just high school but also middle school and even grade school,” says Muhl. “We do think we have something to offer. So wherever we can be helpful, we're not shy about rolling up our sleeves and getting in to do the work.”