ATHENA WE – ATHENA Women Empowered
by Taylor Hutson
I am Taylor Hutson, President of ATHENA WE, at the University of Central Florida. I am a senior majoring in Finance with a minor in Information Technology. With the support of Jennifer Johnson, who served as my advisor, Tiffany Hughes, Dean Paul Jarley, Theresa Joseph, Casey Field, Beth Young, Ceci Leon and Emily Brennan, I founded “ATHENA Women Empowered” or “ATHENA WE” in March 2016 at the University of Central Florida (UCF). This registered student organization is based on the ATHENA International College Connections program. The chapter at UCF was named “ATHENA (W)omen (E)mpowered” with emphasis on “WE,” intentionally cultivating the “unity and collaboration of women.”
After five semesters of trial and error, the Executive Board (e-board) of ATHENA WE and I reflected on the progress and goals of the organization. Near the end of the second year, I was searching for a way to “create demand” as my mentor Dayna Shea suggested. Our findings led to the creation of an ATHENA Leadership Certificate that can be earned with points associated with events and meetings of ATHENA WE. The start of this Spring semester developed seamlessly with an amazing team of women leaders: Janice Borges, Riane Lisnock, Gagan Cambow, Mercedes Rubie, and Janet Fernandez. As ATHENA WE progresses throughout the semester, I encourage the e-board to constantly ask themselves, “Does this add value to the members?”
Modeled after the local ATHENA Leadership Orlando chapter, ATHENA WE is eight weeks, rather than eight months, and one of the principles of the ATHENA Leadership Model is taught each week. Two meetings are held each week—one is an activity and one is a panel, with both focusing on the ATHENA Leadership Principle for that week. All events in the program are assigned points which members use to receive the ATHENA Leadership Certificate at the chapter’s graduation.
At the opening of the program, a class is inducted and provided with the appropriate materials to be successful and empowered in ATHENA WE. Our chapter strives to cultivate a safe space for women to support each other as they transition from college to career. Because the average age of members is 18-25, our program focuses on what I like to call the “twenties development stage” where most of us are still trying to find who we are. We use this concept to choose relatable topics that can be associated with the ATHENA Leadership Principles. For example, most recently we had a panel entitled “Women Building Wealth” during which panel members discussed how to “Fiercely Advocate” in building your wealth, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. The panel of women came from the local community and shared stories of success and failure and mentorship.
My experience leading ATHENA WE focuses on three levels: women in the program, the e-board, and personal. For women participating in the program, my emphasis is on supporting their needs and providing them opportunities to grow. For example, to practice public speaking (and earn a few extra points), members can volunteer to co-host a meeting with an e-board member where they also learn to plan an agenda, prepare for an event, monitor panel conversation, and practice professional communication and networking.
For the e-board, my priority is assuring that my team has significant leadership experiences. It is important to me that the e-board contributes first-hand to the innovative progress of ATHENA WE. I also want to make sure that their experiences add value, so I strive to empower them in pursuing their own ideas, assuming responsibility in executing those ideas, and practicing delegation. The hardest moments I have had are letting my e-board members fail because of not meeting their responsibilities. Often, I am willing to pick up any slack; however, I know that I must let them fail occasionally for them to see how impactful and valuable their contribution and leadership truly is.
This leads to my third focus–serving as president. Overseeing multiple aspects of ATHENA WE can certainly be overwhelming, but I know that I need to let myself grow, especially in ways that will help improve the lives of others. Consistently, I turn to my advisor for support and feedback, and sometimes that feedback is not always what I want to hear. I have “Constantly Learned” how relevant and important the ATHENA Leadership Principles are when making decisions, and I continuously practice them in my everyday life.
Overall, this two-year journey has brought many opportunities. I have realized that when something does not go as planned, which is often, my type-A personality must adapt and appreciate the change as a “redirection” to something better or more appropriate.
This year, graduation for ATHENA WE was held on April 19, 2018, and it was attended by members of the ATHENA International Board, including Martha Mertz, Founder of ATHENA International, and Andrea Conner, President and Executive Director. I am extremely grateful for the constant support of the ATHENA International Board members, especially Martha Mertz as she has personally contributed to the development of ATHENA WE.
Women who graduated from ATHENA WE program moved chairs in a circle with Martha Mertz and Andrea Conner to talk about the impact of ATHENA WE and which ATHENA Leadership Principle meant the most to them. One woman said, “ATHENA WE created a network of women that I can rely on, especially as we go through the same struggles.” Another said that ATHENA WE influenced her life in a positive way as she was surrounded by positive people who support each other. A minority participant said, “The principle that speaks to me is Living Authentically. As a young woman, it is hard to accept who you are as a person and, as a minority—I am Hispanic—I can stand up for who I am and what changes I can make in the community.”
Prior to graduation, I was surprised to receive the ATHENA Young Professional Award which was presented by Martha Mertz and Andrea Conner during the “Dean’s Excellence Awards.”
Upon self-reflection, I remember that we are in college to learn, and this is the time to practice what we learn, take risks, fail, succeed, and lift each other up. As Helen Keller said, “Together, WE can do so much!”
For more information about ATHENA WE at the University of Central Florida, visit our website www.athenawe.com. A video about ATHENA WE is available at "Becoming Athena (WE)" Video (Video Credits: Gagan Cambow).