Enrico “Rico” Vega, a seventh-grader at George Keverian, a public middle school outside Boston, wants to be a computer engineer when he grows up. He made the decision after spending a week exploring advanced manufacturing tools — think laser cutters — with his classmates. Those tools, plus programming software and a few high-profile advocates, arrived courtesy of the Brilliant Career Play mobile lab, which for the past three years has been exposing Boston-area students to the possibilities of STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Based on its high school companion, Brilliant Career Lab in Boston Public Schools, the Brilliant Career Play lab was created by a partnership of the GE Foundation, the Boston Celtics and the Fab Foundation.
Not only did Vega and his classmates get exposure to tools related to future careers, they also enjoyed a visit from Celtics center Aron Baynes, local hoops legend Dana Barros, Celtics mascot Lucky and Jennifer Edwards, a director at the GE Foundation. The foursome joined a classroom of 24 eighth-graders for a circuit-making project, and then addressed hundreds of students in the school’s gymnasium. Baynes, full of energy and clearly engaged with the students, described in detail the many ways technology is used by the Celtics organization, from activity-measuring devices on the players to the various technologies the training staff uses to get players in peak condition. “There’s a lot of different things and they all have to do with technology,” he said. “I wish when I was in school I had the STEM lab you guys have.”
For students, the event was a welcome break from their ordinary studies even before rounds of running high-fives and T-shirt tossing by the VIPs. More importantly, the appearance from the Celtics underscored the importance of the STEM instruction represented by the Brilliant Career Play lab, according to Jacey Vaughan, an eighth-grade science teacher. “Every time we learn any fact, I show them how somebody uses that fact in the real world,” Vaughan said. “To be able to do this right now in a STEM unit, a technology-immersive unit, really brings what they’re doing to life in a way that we wouldn’t be able to do.”
The lab is a version of the GE Brilliant Career Lab, which was created for Boston high-schoolers as part of GE’s $50 million commitment to support the development of the next-generation digital workforce. The lab’s name evokes GE’s Brilliant Factory concept — a facility that uses equipment such as lasers, robots and sensors, as well as data and analytics, to constantly improve manufacturing. The morning of the Celtics event, students used the 3D printer to make finger splints, and they designed their own T-shirts to cut and print with tools from the lab. “It’s inspiring the kids to get you into a good career,” Vega said. “When you get to high school you’re going to use a ton of technology, and that’s going to bring you into a good college program, and a good college program is going to get you a good job.”
Inspiring students like Vega was a high enough priority that Baynes found time between a middle-of-the-night arrival from a Celtics road trip and early team practice to be at the school, while Barros cut short a dentist appointment to be there. “Being from the Boston area, I find it’s awesome to be involved with the community,” said Barros, who starred at Boston College and played 15 years in the NBA. “It’s an honor and” — he glanced at the equipment — “it’s really cool.”