GE Power on Thursday rolled out the Brilliant Career Lab it is giving to Schenectady High School, a $250,000 trailer packed with computer-controlled manufacturing tools designed to pique student interest in technology careers.
The prototype on display Thursday was developed at General Electric’s Boston headquarters and introduced in that city’s public schools. The company decided to place the next working model in Schenectady, where the company was born 125 years ago.
As he announced the decision Thursday, GE Power President and CEO Steve Bolze noted the company’s long-running relationship with the city, and with its schools in particular. One of the company’s greatest minds, Charles Steinmetz, was a president of the Schenectady Board of Education, he noted, and an early proponent of progressive measures such as free lunches.
“As we look to launch this program nationally, we said, ‘What’s the best place to have an impact?’ Why not take it back to the heart of where we started?”
Bolze also noted that GE’s first and still-largest research facility is a few miles from the school, on River Road in Niskayuna.
The mobile lab is GE’s largest contribution to the Schenectady City School District in more than 15 years, he noted. It was developed by the MIT Fab Foundation and the GE Foundation, which is General Electric’s philanthropic arm. One will be built and equipped for Schenectady in the next few months. Future copies will be donated to other communities where GE has a presence.
The lab has modular cabinets that can be configured according to the focus of the class that will be using it. Available tools include cutting lasers, three-dimensional printers, vinyl cutters, ShopBot milling machines, and a CNC machine — all scaled for the 26-foot trailer, and all controlled by computers that will be programmed by students.
When the school day is done, the students will be able to continue their work online, through virtual simulation. That’s important, Bolze said, because manufacturing today has a strong digital aspect.
“This is the first mobile lab that will enable students to learn about digital and industrial careers through hands-on applications,” he said. “This is the future.”
Bolze and other GE officials used the word “investment” several times Thursday in connection with the donation of the Brilliant Career Lab, noting the shortage of young workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and noting their importance to the 300,000-person international company.
District Superintendent Larry Spring said the trailer will be stationed at Schenectady High School as a curriculum tool but will be taken to the middle schools for visits as a way of introducing the middle schoolers to what they’ll be doing in high school. It will go into use in September, and the curriculum will be developed over the first year or two.
Schenectady High faculty will staff the trailer with assistance and guidance from General Electric.
It’s not just a donation, it’s an injection of an education program into the city’s schools, he said.
Spring said it will be an important tool for the district, which has a demographic profile that does not match the STEM industry.
“The STEM fields traditionally are not very balanced when you think about what kinds of kids that go into them,” he said. “Whether you look at gender, it tends to be a much more male-dominated field, look at race, it tends to be a much more white-dominated field, whether you look at economics, it tends to be much more middle-class or upper middle-class dominated.”
He wants students of all backgrounds to not just have access to STEM education and programs, but be encouraged to participate in them.
“This will become our capstone in the STEM program,” he said.
Race, economics and gender won’t predict enrollment, Spring said. This is not just a benefit to students who can find more opportunities for better careers; it helps industry and society overall.
“When you have one dominant culture that are your makers, your designers, your architects of policy, it becomes difficult to recognize the assumptions that they build into things,” he said.