Almost every day, 13-year-old Valerie Cameron-Goodwin carries a wooden business card etched with her name, email address and dream job: surgeon. She’s proud of what this card says — and prouder still that she made it herself using an industrial-grade laser cutter in a 32-by-8-foot trailer parked by her middle school’s front door.
“At first it was confusing — how can you create something on a computer and then transfer it to a machine?” says the eighth-grader. “But then it all made sense, and it was so exciting watching my design get carved on the wood.”
Valerie produced her prized card this fall in a mobile science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lab at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, a neighborhood in Boston. The Boston Celtics and the GE Foundation created the Brilliant Career Play lab, which provides middle schoolers with fresh opportunities to use their hands and minds to work on innovative projects — often with a basketball theme.
“It’s a way for kids to get excited about how many different connections there are to STEM careers,” says Alethea Campbell, program manager at Fab Lab, which made and operates the mobile unit. “Celtic player Aron Baynes met the kids at the launch and told them that no matter if on the court or off, he’s committed to learning — that was really powerful for the students to hear.”
The mobile lab, which is based off the GE Brilliant Career Lab created for high schoolers last year, is essentially an industrial warehouse in a trailer. The lab’s name is evocative of 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.
Under the guidance of the lab’s traveling teacher, Fab Lab’s Aiden Mullaney, students test their manufacturing chops on the laser cutter, milling machines, 3-D printers and a vinyl cutter for making clothing designs. Students learn how to use design tools on the computer and then use the lab’s machinery to bring those designs to life. For instance, they can create a custom athletic shoe on the computer and then print it with the 3-D printer. “It opens their doors and helps them understand their career options,” Campbell says. “We had one student who thought his only path was to be a doctor — we showed him he [could consider] designing wearable medical devices.”
Kelli Wells, executive director of education and skills at the GE Foundation, says that the partnership with the Celtics has given the lab the opportunity to spin a number of lessons into sports themes. That’s a big hit with the students — even those who didn’t think sports were for them. “We have them thinking about wearable-device engineering and data analytics for the scoreboard,” she says. “So many kids are doing some critical thinking and learning. There is more to sports than being a player.”
After the relatively simple activity of making business cards, Valerie and her classmates worked together to develop an item basketball players could use to keep their shoes tied. “They came up with all different kinds of designs,” Campbell says. “It was really empowering for them to learn that they can create anything with these essential skills.”
After a two-week pilot run at Frederick, the Celtics lab is moving on to eight other Boston-area middle schools. The Brilliant Career Labs are part of $50 million in funding the GE Foundation is providing to Boston Public Schools students, community health centers and initiatives for diversity in the STEM workplace.
Valerie says she is holding on to two great moments from her lab experience: that wooden business card and the moment she got to ask Baynes an important question. “I asked him how tall he is.”