The ATHENA Program: Grand Rapids

ATHENA Grand Rapids supports, develops, and inspires women leaders as well as honors the men and women who empower women in leadership. The program offers the ATHENA Award and ATHENA Young Professional Award, annual scholarships to women over 30, and bi-monthly leadership forums based upon the tenets of the ATHENA Leadership Model® from ATHENA International. This model identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.


Once upon a time, women didn’t even have the right to vote or to drive. Today, after years of fiercely fighting for their rights, they are challenging, re-inventing, and innovating their communities and are a strong force for economic change.


ATHENA International is a non-profit organization that aims to support, develop, and honor women leaders in local communities all around the world through scholarships, leadership forums, and recognizing women of excellence. The ATHENA Leadership Award and the ATHENA Young Professionals Award have become the country’s most prestigious awards for women, honoring those who achieve professional success, while also giving back to the community.

In Greek Mythology, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war, and the arts. Favorite daughter of Zeus, her birth was unique in that a mother did not bear her, but instead sprang out of Zeus forehead fully-grown and dressed in armor. Fierce and brave, it’s no wonder that this award is named after her! Celebrating, inspiring, and advocating for women warriors who possess these goddess’ qualities is central to what the ATHENA Program represents.



Women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population and earn about:

  • 60 percent of undergraduate degrees
  • 60 percent of all master’s degrees
  • 47 percent of all law degrees
  • 48 percent of all medical degrees


Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. (McKinsey)


They lag substantially behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions.

According to a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, despite the fact that women hold almost 52 percent of professional-level jobs, they are only:

  • 14.6 percent of executive officers
  • 8.1 percent of top earners
  • 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs

Women of color face an even wider gap regarding representation in leadership roles, with only 11.9 percent in managerial or professional positions, despite making up about one-third of the female workforce.

The ATHENA Program aims to empower women to seek out and succeed at leadership positions, despite the challenges the country faces regarding these issues. By supporting and recognizing them in a great number of ways, the hope is that they are inspired to succeed, make an impact, and are encouraged to guide future generations to do the same.

ATHENA: Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Award Program is affiliated with ATHENA International. The Grand Rapids ATHENA Award program began in 1989 and exists to honor women and men for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills. Twenty amazing women have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in Grand Rapids.

In 2000, a Scholarship component was added to the program, funded by corporate sponsorships and individual donations. To date, we have given more than $30,000 to women in our community who are over 30 and have returned to college to complete their degrees.

2008 marked the first presentation of the ATHENA Young Professional Award in our community, and we became one of the first programs in the country to do so. This award recognizes an emerging leader in the community for her/his community service, leadership, and for being a role model.

The ATHENA Awards Program

The ATHENA Awards Program and ATHENA Young Professional Award are founded on the ATHENA Leadership Model® from ATHENA International, which identifies eight distinct attributes, called the ATHENA Tenets, that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.

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ATHENA Scholarships

The 2015 ATHENA Scholarship Recipients

Each year, the ATHENA Awards Program presents several scholarships to recipients of the unique ATHENA Scholarship, which assists women over 30 who are pursuing their higher-education dreams.

ATHENA Scholarships are unique in that recipients can use the money for whatever helps them achieve their degree, from tuition fees, to childcare or transportation expenses—building a brighter future for careers, family, and personal goals.

Direct donations to the ATHENA Scholarship Fund are always welcome. If you’re interested in contributing to the ATHENA Scholarship Fund and/or can’t attend the fundraiser event, please donate online or contact Megan Smith Jovanovic.

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“Being awarded this amazing scholarship from such a strong group of powerful women gave me the encouragement I needed to work towards my college education.” — Valerie Cook, 2014 ATHENA Scholarship Recipient

The ATHENA Leadership Forum

A snippet from March 2016’s ATHENA Leadership Forum

The ATHENA Leadership Forum fosters and supports the development of strong female leaders in our community. Rooted in the eight tenets of the ATHENA Leadership Model, the bi-monthly ATHENA Leadership Forum provides professional development opportunities for women of all levels.

Each ATHENA Leadership Forum features a brief presentation followed by a facilitated discussion around one of the eight ATHENA tenets—Authentic Self, Celebration & Joy, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Fierce Advocacy, Giving Back, Learning, and Relationships.

Join us to learn valuable leadership lessons, interact with leaders in the community, and network with a diverse group of women through dynamic roundtable discussions.

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“When women succeed, nations are more safe, secure and prosperous.”
Barack Obama, 44th US President

Samantha Suarez Administrator

Samantha is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s resident Communications Specialist.

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