Former WNBA player Niesha Butler is making STEM education accessible to children in inner city communities.
Butler is the founder and chief executive officer of S.T.E.A.M. Champs, the first Afro-Latina S.T.E.A.M. — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics — educational center in the U.S.
Located in Brooklyn, New York, Butler’s facility opened in July 2022 and offers advanced, creative, and fun S.T.E.A.M. classes, and more, to youngsters 6 to 12 years old.
In an interview with theGrio, she urges parents to invest in these programs for their children.
“We need to change the narrative of what we pay for and what we feel like is important for kids,” Butler tells theGrio. “It’s really important for parents to get behind the ‘nerdy’ kid, to get behind the kid who wants to tinker with things and build things.”
“Technology is the future, and our community the most is going to be hit hardest if we’re not equipping our kids with these necessary skills,” she continues. “I am very confident that all the kids that come to my program, if they choose to have a career in S.T.E.M., they will go pro. We’re building S.T.E.A.M. champions for the future that we can actually get kids out of generational poverty with one job. Six figures, guys, is what these software engineers, data scientists, statisticians are making.”
It’s no secret that there is a disparity when it comes to S.T.E.M. studies and opportunities.
According to a 2018 Pew research survey, “Black and Hispanic workers continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Blacks make up 11% of the U.S. workforce overall but represent 9% of STEM workers.”
And in education, American Society for Microbiology noted in February that “due to educator bias at predominately-white schools and/or limited resources at majority-Black schools, American Black youth are less likely to participate in early experiences that promote achievements in STEM.”
That is why spaces like S.T.E.A.M. Champs are important. Butler makes sure she encourages the children and interns who walk through her door. When they come to the center, they see someone who looks like them and grew up in a similar environment, and they see that it’s possible to thrive in these industries that may seem far-fetched.
I had the chance to attend a Wednesday Minecraft Coders session at the center, and you can tell that it brings its CEO-founder genuine joy to be able to educate the youth. Butler was so excited to have them — and they matched her energy. They were just as excited to dive into their assignments and work together to make their Lego carousel.
The children were engaged the whole time, caught on quickly, and if they had an issue, Butler and her intern, Fharrell Browne, were there to assist — but in a way that allowed the kids to figure out the solution to their problem, instead of giving them direct answers.
When it was time to present, Butler made sure they started with an affirmation, confidently stating: “I am the engineer of this carousel,” before explaining what inspired their creation.
“I’m trying to build champions to go out there and to take over the world,” says Butler. “We not only are teaching them fundamental coding skills and robotics and programming languages, but every kid that S.T.E.A.M. Champs touch, I want them to walk with the vibe that I walked off [with] when I walked on the court. I want them to walk with that confidence.”
Check out the full interview above to learn more about Butler and S.T.E.A.M. Champs.
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