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A History of the ATHENA International Awards in Greater Rochester

November 30, 2022
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The internationally-recognized ATHENA Award® Program was founded in 1982 in Lansing, Michigan by ATHENA International Founder Martha Mertz. The award was originally established to honor the achievements of exceptional women leaders. And more importantly, it was established to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and business lives.

Since 1982, almost 8,000 top leaders in over 500 communities have received the prestigious ATHENA Award® in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Award® Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.


The ATHENA International Award has been given out in Rochester annually since 1987. The inaugural recipient was Judith A. Schwan, the assistant director of the worldwide Kodak Research and Development Laboratories. The work Schwan did for Kodak helped the Greater Rochester region maintain its status as a global leader in the optics industry. In a piece celebrating her life, the National Academy of Engineering wrote “as a woman in a corporate engineering environment, she earned her promotions in the more difficult days before the gender barriers began to come down for women at Kodak. She was a role model and mentor, an effective but nonstrident feminist, and a career counselor for both men and women.”


The ATHENA Young Professional Award was first given out in Greater Rochester in 2015 to Claudia Burcke when she was a Vice President at Greater Rochester Enterprise. Burcke has gone on to found her own consulting company to support non profit organizations with project management, contract administration, and grant administration services, and currently works at the University of Rochester as well, continuing to dedicate herself to advancing women leaders in Greater Rochester, and driving the success of the region as a whole.


The third category of the ATHENA International Awards is the ATHENA Organizational Excellence Award, which is given to women-owned or -led businesses and organizations that encourage women employees to reach full leadership potential as well as supporting leadership development opportunities for women and girls in the community. This was first given out in 2018 to Dixon Schwabl + Company. Dixon Schwabl’s commitment to female leadership has enabled the organization to receive more attention in subsequent years with Kim Allen, Managing Partner at the time, now CEO, receiving the 2018 ATHENA Young Professional award and Lauren Dixon, Founder and Board chair, receiving the 2021 ATHENA International Award.


This year’s finalists continue to uphold the excellence established by all of our award finalists and recipients over the past 36 years. To learn more about each finalist, see the Chamber News announcement with all of our finalists.

Help us celebrate the remarkable women of Greater Rochester this year at the 2023 ATHENA International Award Ceremony on Thursday, February 2, 2023. Sponsorships are available to support the award, and ticket sales are open. To learn more, view our Sponsorship Booklet and Event Registration pages.


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