Earlier this year, Niesha Butler’s place in New York City basketball history was celebrated in the documentary film “NYC Point Gods.” After a distinguished basketball career followed by work in television broadcasting, Butler moved into technology. She is now working to make a lasting impact on the community with the opening earlier this year of S.T.E.A.M. Champs, a sports-themed coding, robotics and art gym for kids where they learn, create and play.
A graduate of Georgia Tech, Butler said as a woman, she knew she needed a life plan beyond professional basketball. “Nine out of 10 women CEOs in this country have played some sort of sport growing up,” said Butler, who describes herself as a tech entrepreneur.
S.T.E.A.M. Champs, located in Brooklyn, provides access to science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It is the first Black woman-owned coding and robotics education center in the country. “I run it like a gym because I think athletics has a lot as far as who you are as a person—confidence, teamwork, stability, multi-tasking—a lot of things kids need, especially young girls,” said Butler, the founder and CEO. “I use sports as life skills.”
Butler thought she was being filmed for “NYC Point Gods” to speak about some of the male point guards from New York, but in their interviews several men spoke about her. She did, after all, break the New York City record of Kenny Anderson for most points scored in a high school career. “I was grateful they added women into the documentary, but also that I had the respect of my peers and people that I’ve always…looked up to,” said Butler.
Now, she wants boys and girls to tap into the tech world to inspire them to pursue higher education. Butler is disturbed by the number of girls who lose interest in science and math as they become teenagers. “Girls who play sports have a makeup that allows them to try something and not really care if they fail,” she said.
A lot of the activities at S.T.E.A.M. Champs are sports-themed and musical, trying to get some of the kids who want to be rappers involved in coding. She wants inner city kids to develop foundational skills, so she hopes to expand to more urban areas. They won’t necessarily be scientists, but computers play into many careers.
“I don’t want our kids to be afraid or lack confidence,” Butler said. “They need to be exposed to it.”