Former WNBA player Niesha Butler launches first Afro-Latina-owned STEM Center in New York
Located in her hometown of Brooklyn, Niesha Butler wants her new center to help make STEM education more accessible.
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In July 2022, the downtown Brooklyn, New York area saw the official grand opening of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) CHAMPS, a new STEM Education Center.
The center is the first STEM Center to be Afro-Latina-owned, and is the brainchild of former WNBA player, Niesha Butler.
The new STEM Education Center will offer free training programs in coding, robotics, game development and app development for kids ages 6 and up.
Butler’s new center is part of her mission to make STEM education more accessible to children of color in the U.S.
“This means a lot, not only for me personally but all the people are looking at me and in my community,” said Butler.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Butler was an elite basketball player, becoming New York City’s all-time leading high school basketball player.
She then went on to play her collegiate career at Georgia Tech before entering the WNBA as a member of the New York Liberty.
“When I was growing up, you either had to hustle, or you had to play sports to get out,” said Butler.
Since retiring from the sport, she has turned to sports reporting, notably as a sideline reporter for the Atlanta Hawks and for various outlets, including CBS Radio, MSG Network and CUNY TV.
She has more recently embarked on a journey as a software engineer and entrepreneur.
Butler is also the founder of Sports DataBase Network, her first tech company, launched in 2010. She also founded the nonprofit, Ballin Technologies, where she teaches disadvantaged students coding, and prepares them for careers in STEM through a love of sports.
The creation of S.T.E.A.M. Champs is an extension of her work to engage and inspire youth in New York City. She has already collaborated with programs like Girl Scouts, BronxWorks, and a local AAU basketball team to provide STEM-focused classes to local students.
She has reached over 300 New York City students since beginning this endeavor.
"There's not a lot of people of color in tech," Butler said to ABC News. "These jobs are open for everybody and they're empty…so obviously we need to do a better job at educating our kids and in recruiting them."
According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, Black and Latinx people represent only 9% and 8% of STEM workers in the US, respectively.
"People sell basketball dreams every other second in our community. I thought it was really important to, let's sell these tech dreams," Butler added.
Her own STEM journey began when Butler was 12 years old, when she took her first computer science class. It was an eye-opening experience for her.
“I really look back to that time because that set the foundation that gave me the confidence that gave me the skill. It was a yearlong class and I realized I was the only female in that class. And, of course, the only person of color in that class,” said Butler in an interview with CBS2.
With the launch of S.T.E.A.M. Champs, Butler plans to meet in the coming weeks with prospective students with a “Code on the Court” event at local basketball courts in Brooklyn to offer free signups to 10 students.
Specifically, she highlights that the new center is dedicated to her mother, whom she recently lost.
Butler told ABC News that as the program grows, she will look to partner with large tech companies like Google and Microsoft to reduce limitations and doubts in the minds of students.
“If I could just affect one kid, we’re affecting hundreds of kids,” she said.