Heather M. Butts, J.D.
Adjunct Professor and Student Adviser
St. John’s University School of Law;
Columbia University School of Public Health
New York City
In the Butts family, learning, helping others and teaching are shared passions. “We’re pretty much a goal-oriented family,” says Heather M. Butts, adjunct professor and student adviser at Columbia University and St. John’s University School of Law. Butts, the “youngest” of a set of triplets, received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law and a master’s in public health from Harvard University. After a few years in Los Angeles, during which she focused on health care compliance and patient advocacy, the New York native returned to school —at Teachers College, Columbia University — for a second master’s degree and then began to teach at the undergraduate and graduate level.
In 2009, Butts established Health, Education, Academics, Life-Skills Training Help (H.E.A.L.T.H.) for Youths Inc. Her organization partners with 15 programs each year to help more than 1,000 students achieve their dream of going to college. The end result is most rewarding, she says. “That one student succeeding makes it worth all the work and energy you put into this program,” she states.
Butts might have missed the chance to see that end result when, at the age of 5, she started to lose her hearing. It took more than 20 years and nearly 20 surgeries to correct the condition. During that experience she developed an appreciation for the arts and learned to play the piano, even performing at Carnegie Hall. “It’s kind of twofold. I gained a newfound appreciation for being able to hear and that made me appreciate music even more,” she explains.
An avid marathon runner, Butts has completed four New York City marathons, one with her father. Sharing her story of defying the odds of her hearing loss and aiming for greatness with teenagers and college students are rewards in themselves,” she says.