Ask a gym full of middle school students how many of them want to be professional athletes when they grow up, and nearly half of them will raise their hands.

“I want to go to the WNBA,” said Chalina Guerrero, an eighth grader who plays for the girls’ basketball team at Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester.

As time, ability and luck will show, most of those dreams won’t come true. That’s why a back-up plan is vital. For Guerrero, it’s playing basketball overseas or becoming a lawyer.

“The college I want to get into … they look at your grades and your resume,” Guerrero said. “They’re not going to pull someone out for bad grades, they’re going to pull someone out who strives for their dreams, education-wise and athletic-wise.”

During a pep rally Tuesday at Frederick Pilot, the Boston Celtics and the General Electric Foundation collaborated to send this message to students. They encouraged them to pick careers that align with their interests, sports or otherwise, and unveiled the Brilliant Career Play mobile lab designed to engage middle schoolers in hands-on STEM learning. They also stressed that making it to the big leagues doesn’t necessarily mean being on a team roster.  

The "Brilliant Career Play" mobile lab parked outside of Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester.
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“Not everyone can be a pro athlete," said Rich Gotham, president of the Boston Celtics. "The dream ends for all of us at some point, but there’s so many ways you can be involved in sports, sort of off the court or off the field, and increasingly, the people we’re hiring are people with great analytics skills, math, science, technology skills.”

While the STEM workforce continues to grow and evolve, minorities remain underrepresented in the field. As of 2015, blacks and Hispanics make up roughly  11 percent of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Foundation. More than 85 percent of Frederick Pilot Middle’s students are black or Hispanic, and the school is working to produce students who can diversify the industry.  

Celtics team president Rich Gotham speaks to students at Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester.
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“If we are not preparing kids at the at middle school level, they will never have access, exposure, opportunities to really engage in some of the STEM industries and thinking about, ‘what do I want to do?’ That starts in elementary school, so we’re late to the game,” said Pauline Lugira, Frederick Pilot's principal. She added that having role models such as Celtics center Aron Baynes, who was in attendance Tuesday, helps make STEM more attractive.

“Sports is not something that is an option for people long-term, for the most part,” Baynes said. “That’s why I have a college degree — I knew I wanted to get that background so that … I always have a fall-back plan.” 

Celtics center Aron Baynes with Frederick Pilot Middle School principal Pauline Lugira (center).
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Before the pep rally, Baynes worked with a group of students on a project in the mobile lab that showed how electric circuits work, taking time to offer advice and sign autographs. He was then welcomed into the school gymnasium in a similar fashion to how he’s welcomed at TD Garden at the start of a Celtics home game.

“Last but not least, all the way from Australia, the big guy himself … please make some noise for No. 36, Aron Baynes!” the announcer exclaimed over high-energy music. Cheers and screams from the students followed as Baynes walked along the bleachers giving them high fives. It was the closest some of them had ever been to someone famous. And he wasn’t just any special guest — he was someone they watched on TV, and thus, his words would leave an impression.

Frederick Pilot Middle School students, such as Chalina Guerrero (center) and Nate Ashton (right), learn how electric circuits work as part of the "Brilliant Career Play" mobile lab.
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Celtics center Aron Baynes signs the shirt of Frederick Pilot eighth grader Nate Ashton.
Paris Alston/WGBH News

“A lot of kids don’t get to meet NBA players, let alone touch them and talk to them like I have,” said eighth grader Nate Ashton. “He taught me … sometimes less is better than having more. That’s a motto that I like to live by — sometimes you don’t need everything for you to be successful.”

Ashton said that as a “regular kid at a regular school” with limited financial resources, it was great to hear that message.

Over the next several weeks, Frederick Pilot students will engage in STEM activities and lessons. The Brilliant Career Play lab will continue making its way to public schools around Boston and across the state.