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EMPLOYEE HIGHLIGHT: Nikki Stephenson, Project Manager of The Butterfly Project

The Future of Work's Butterfly Project was selected as the program that was featured to represent Louisville, Kentucky as one of 50 Champion Cities in the Bloomberg Philanthropies 2021 Global Mayors Challenge. When this successful project came to a close last summer, Nikki Stephenson was hired with the goal of enhancing and repeating the program in 2022 in order to support even more Louisvillians.

Headshot of Nikki Stephenson
NIKKI STEPHENSON, The Butterfly Project - Project Manager

With Nikki’s leadership, from July 11 - 15, 2022 over 70 individuals including SummerWorks interns, high school educators, college professors, and local nonprofit leaders participated in The Butterfly Project, a one-week immersive social justice data analytics experience that culminated in an event at Roots 101: African American Museum.


Using Louisville/JCPS’s open access data sources and internal datasets submitted by the nonprofits, participants worked with community nonprofits throughout the project to use data to support their efforts addressing systemic inequities that directly impact Louisville residents.


The organizations that volunteered to participate and support the program included: Tech-nique, Amplify Louisville, Flight Club 502, Cultivating The Youth Experience Inc., Sowing Seeds with Faith, Queer Kentucky, and South Louisville Community Ministries.


During the program, all participants experienced and learned:

  • Data analytics skills such as how to collect, clean, interpret, and visualize data, as well as how to identify data gaps and how these gaps affect outcomes.

  • How to leverage the power of data to strengthen the efforts of local nonprofits addressing social challenges impacting jobs, justice, education, health and housing.

In order to sharpen her own skills, Stephenson also graduated from Tech Louisville’s Data Analytics program and incorporated her skills as a student in the Future of Work’s Data Boss program. She now uses her new data visualization skills for various Future of Work Initiative projects.


“W.E.B. Dubois once said ‘When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings,’” said Stephenson. “For the past 20 years I worked as a performer with storytelling as my passion. For me, numbers were very intimidating and felt like an unattainable and insignificant space that carried very little meaning in my life. However, once I went through data analytics training, I realized that numbers are and have always been an important part of storytelling. I strive to share this realization through The Butterfly Project by providing individuals the opportunity to further social change and address systemic inequities by leveraging data to share stories in a meaningful and accurate way. It’s a beautiful marriage that I hope continues to be a part of my work going forward in all facets of my life.”


In addition to managing The Butterfly Project to another successful year, Stephenson and co-worker Jade Brown implemented a 14-week Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) Workshop, which they piloted at Grace James Academy Middle School. They are working to update the curriculum so it can be shared with more teachers/schools, particularly those who serve a diverse body of students.


“AI/ML is interconnected with all facets of our lives whether we are aware of it or not,” said Stephenson. “I am a firm believer that knowledge is not only power, it is empowering. You can’t change what you do not acknowledge. I have a responsibility to tell the truth and live in truth no matter how hard it is to see or hear. That is a value for me - if we don’t educate marginalized communities, especially Black/Brown communities it will go all the way without us at the table, which could result in life or death consequences.”


Stephenson encourages all programmers and data analysts to watch the PBS movie Coded Bias to better understand the importance of having broader representation in the tech field. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/coded-bias/


“We are so fortunate to have Nikki on our team,” said Alisia McClain, Executive Director of the Louisville Future of Work Initiative. “Her unique and creative perspective from the diversity of her background and experiences, plus her continued commitment to lifelong learning, make her an essential leader in the Future of Work.”

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