25th Annual ATHENA Women’s Leadership Award Luncheon

Home » 25th Annual ATHENA Women’s Leadership Award Luncheon

“Supporting, developing, and honoring women leaders; inspiring women to achieve their full potential; and creating balance in leadership worldwide.”

– ATHENA International

On Friday, June 16th at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, the Metro South Chamber and Eastern Bank presented the 25th Annual ATHENA Leadership Award during a special luncheon to an exceptional individual who has achieved excellence in their business or profession, has served the community in a meaningful way, and has assisted women in reaching their full leadership potential. Our 25th ATHENA Award recipient is Barbara Arena, Granite State Economic Development Corporation; our guest speaker was Dr. Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, UMass Boston. Read on to learn more about the history of the ATHENA Award, our award recipient, and our guest speaker.

Full photo album available on Flickr – PC: Ben Ross Photography

Missed the event? Don’t worry, we recorded it for you. Thanks BCA!

About the Award:

The ATHENA Award was inspired by the goddess of Greek mythology known for her strength, courage, wisdom, and enlightenment – qualities embodied in the ATHENA Leadership Model. The Award is unique in both scope – local, national, and international – and the ATHENA mission upon which it is based. The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to a person who is honored for professional excellence, community service, and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary 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 the United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented annually by chambers of commerce, women’s organizations, and universities. The award is established in partnership with ATHENA International. For more information, visit athenainternational.org


Abby Nguyen-Burke, Senior Vice President, Team Leader, Equity Alliance for Business, Eastern Bank

Abby has over 19 years of business and community development experience in the Boston Metro area. She is currently leading a new lending initiative focused on serving the needs of women entrepreneurs and small business owners who are people of color.

Abby is first generation Vietnamese-American. Growing up as a refugee, she prioritizes the importance of family and community, and she strives to make a meaningful and lasting impact in the community where she lives and works. Recently, she was named as one of the 2022 40 Under 40 by the Boston Business Journal as well as one of the 2022 Emerging Leaders by the American Bankers Association.

As of 2023, Abby serves as Vice-Chair for the Policy Committee for the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA). In this role, she helps to lead members from 45 chapters across the country as they gather in Washington, D.C. for the 2023 Diversity and Fair Housing Summit to lobby and advocate for AAPI homeownership rights. Abby served as Chairperson for the AREAA Boston Chapter in 2021 and 2022. At Eastern, Abby has served as Co-Chair of the Asian American Professional Collective since 2012. She was formerly Board Chairperson and President of Quincy Asian Resources, Inc. for over 12 years, a volunteer teacher at Citizen Schools, Advisory Board member of Women of Means, and a volunteer for VIETAID and Dorchester House. Abby has been certified by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce with a Transformational DEI Certificate and is an alumna of The Boston Partnership. In 2014, she was named as one of the 40 under 40 by South Shore Stars, and in 2018 was named GK25 Boston’s 25 Most Influential Millennials of Color by Get Konnected! To learn more about Abby and Eastern Bank, please visit www.easternbank.com/business-banking/equity-business-alliance/banker-bios

Past ATHENA Award Recipients:

2022 Phyllis Ellis – Brockton Area NAACP

2021 Sheila Sullivan-Jardim – MassHire Greater Brockton Workforce Board

2020 Nancy B. Gustafson – Brockton Public Schools

2019 Sharon Wolder – Brockton Public Schools

2018 June Saba-Maguire – Brockton Public Schools

2017 Diane Bell – Bridgewater State University

2016 Cheryl Opper – School on Wheels

2015 Mary Waldron – Bridgewater State University

2014 Janet Trask – Brockton VA Hospital

2013 Kathleen Smith – Brockton Public Schools

2012 Ruth Bramson – Girl Scouts of Eastern MA

2011 Elaine Reiser – Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc.

2010 Anne DeMinico – St. Joseph Manor Health Care, Inc.

2009 Sue Joss – Brockton Neighborhood Health Center

2008 Vanessa Tierney – Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc.

2007 Dr. Susan Szachowicz – Brockton High School Principal

2006 Lorette DeGrazia – East Coast Petroleum Copr.

2005 Marianne Wroble Cox* – WXBR 1460 AM Radio

2004 Shailah Stewart – Brockton Public Schools

2003 Dr. Linda Faria Braun – Adult Learning Center

2002 Christine Karavites* – Proteas Consulting

2001 Barbara Duffy – Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc.

2000 Noelle Foye – Brockton Public Schools Nurse

1999 Janice Cunningham – East Bridgewater Police


About our Guest Speaker:

Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, Director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy; Graduate Program Director, Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy Graduate Certificate Program; McCormack Graduate School; UMass Boston.

Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson is the director for the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston, and graduate program director for the Gender, Leadership and Public Policy graduate certificate program. In 2018 she was a visiting professor in the same program.  She has held faculty and senior scientist positions at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, where she was affiliated with the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, and the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy.

In prior academic roles, Nsiah-Jefferson has headed efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Heller School, and was the concentration head for women, gender, and sexuality studies for the Master’s in Public Policy Program.  Dr. Nsiah-Jefferson has served as affiliate faculty with the Health, Science, Society and Policy Program, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program, and the African and Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis University. She is also an affiliate of the Intersectionality Institute for Policy and Research, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia. She was recently appointed Associate Research Professor at the University of North Carolina, College of Health and Human Services.

Nsiah-Jefferson earned a PhD in social policy with a concentration in Health Policy/ Health Services from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and a Master’s in Women and Gender Studies from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University. She also received a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Services Administration from Yale University School of Medicine, Dept. of Epidemiology and Public Health. In addition she holds a BA in African and Afro-American studies and politics from Brandeis University. Learn more about Laurie here.

About the Award Recipient:

Barbara Arena, Granite State Economic Development Corp.

With over 30 years of experience working with SBA programs as a 504-financing expert and an advocate for small businesses, Barbara Arena is the Vice President at Granite State Economic Development Corporation where she works with commercial bankers to arrange participation financing which utilizes the SBA 504 loan program.

As an SBA financing industry expert, Arena has been an active member of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders and National Association of Development Companies through the years, advocating on a national level on Capitol Hill to ensure the health of the 7(a) and 504 programs delivering capital to small businesses.

Barbara is a tireless advocate for advancing women in business and utilizes her over 30 years of experience to assist in leveling up the businesses of women throughout New England. Arena is a supporter of several business networks and advocacy efforts and works with state representatives to address local legislative and regulatory issues facing small businesses. Regionally, Arena is a founding member of the Hanson Business Network, formed to increase economic development and business growth in the town of Hanson. Arena also sits on the board of both the New England Business Brokers Association and Realtor’s Commercial Alliance of MA; organizations active in enhancing business and real estate acquisitions and affecting Impact on legislation of same. Learn more about Barbara here.

Thank you to our program sponsor, Capstone Communities

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