Lifetime of Learning: Athena Award & Scholarship


by Christy Howard Womack

The ATHENA Award is an international program, established in 1982 and presented in more than 500 communities administered by ATHENA International in Chicago, Illinois, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting, developing and honoring women leaders to achieve their full potential. RUTHERFORD Cable brought the ATHENA Award to the Murfreesboro community in 2014. This is the third year of the award program, which is presented by both RUTHERFORD Cable and Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital.

The ATHENA Award recipient is someone who achieves the highest level of professional excellence, contributes time and energy to improve the quality of life for those in the community; and actively assists others, particularly women, in realizing their full leadership potential.                

In 2015, the Rutherford ATHENA program introduced the ATHENA nontraditional scholarship.  The scholarship is granted to a woman who is pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree later in life. This “Return to the Workforce Scholarship” was $1,500 in 2015, but was increased to $3,000 for 2016.  This increase was possible due to the strong support of the ATHENA Patrons Society, whose members invest $150 each to support the ATHENA Award Program and the annual scholarship. One student each year who has been out of high school for at least five years and who is pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is awarded with the scholarship.

The 2015 scholarship recipient was Naomi Florentino Bustamante, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mechatronics Engineering at MTSU.  Naomi is an intern at Nissan and is actively involved in several community and school groups.

“I learned of the ATHENA program through my manager at Nissan, Mary Jo Cherney,” says Bustamante. “I had been a coop student at Nissan and later accepted an internship there. After applying for the Athena scholarship, I began attending Cable breakfasts and lunches and it has increased my confidence so much. I have learned leadership skills and really grown in my professional development.”

Naomi graduated from Motlow Community College in Smyrna in May of 2015. Now she is attending MTSU and hopes to graduate in May 2017 in Mechatronics engineering. “I would like to gain experience in the field of industrial robotics, but Cable has also taught me to be very entrepreneurial and I hope to someday have a business of my own. Seeing members of RUTHERFORD Cable has really encouraged me. They taught me it wasn’t going to be easy, but that it was possible.”

“Last year was our first time to offer the “Back to the Work Force”, non-traditional Scholarship sponsored by the Patrons Society.  Since the response was so generous last year for the $1,500 scholarship, I supported doubling that scholarship to $3,000 for this year’s recipient. With this increase, the winning student will be able to fund almost a full year of her education.  While I am confident that we will reach our goal, the scholarship increase means that we will need even more Patrons Society members for 2016,” said ATHENA Scholarship Chair Dr. Ellen Slicker. “It is vitally important that intelligent women be given the financial opportunity to reach their educational potential. Through this scholarship, we hope that a woman who has dropped out of school, for whatever reason, can now afford to return to college to get that associate’s or bachelor’s degree.”

Nominees for the 2016 scholarship are being reviewed and awards will be announced on April 28 at the Awards ceremony at Stones River Country Club. Also at the Awards ceremony, the annual ATHENA Award will be bestowed on one of several deserving nominees. The nominees for the 2016 Athena Award were introduced at RUTHERFORD Cable’s February 9 breakfast meeting.

Naomi Bustamante receiving the 2015 ATHENA scholarship from Patrons Chair Rachel White.

Naomi Bustamante receiving the 2015 ATHENA scholarship from Patrons Chair Rachel White.

Meagan Flippin is the 2016 ATHENA Award Chairman.

Meagan Flippin is the 2016 ATHENA Award Chairman.

“The ATHENA program seeks to honor and develop women leaders. As a past nominee, I can attest that through my experience, I developed both personally and professionally,” said ATHENA Chair Meagan Flippin. “In just three short years, the ATHENA program has expanded locally to include a young professional component, a $3,000 return to the workforce scholarship, and a forum in partnership with the MTSU Jones College of Business that connects female business students to the professional community. Our goal for this program is to continue to honor those who have both paved and paced the way for female leaders. 

“ATHENA nominations have traditionally come from nonprofit organizations in the community who wish to recognize the exceptional professional and personal leadership and service of women involved in their organizations,” said Flippin. “This year, we are pleased also to have nominations from several businesses who want to recognize an exemplary employee; it is gratifying to see area businesses who value and wish to celebrate their own women leaders.”

“There have been several exciting developments in the ATHENA Program this year,” Flippin continued.  “We invited nominations for a separate ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award, which recognizes an emerging leader under age 40 who exemplifies the ATHENA values and serves as a role model for young women personally and professionally.  We were thrilled to receive 10 Young Professional nominations in the inaugural year of this award.”

The ATHENA scholarship is supported by the ATHENA Patrons Society, which provides an ongoing foundation of sustainability for the Rutherford ATHENA Award.  Patrons Society members make a $150 donation which includes their admission to the April 28 event as well as to a private event held the evening prior.  Information regarding the Patrons Society may be found at

This year RUTHERFORD Cable is partnering with the Jones College of Business at MTSU to present the inaugural Rutherford Athena Leadership Forum, which connects high-ability women business students from the Jones College of Business at MTSU with Rutherford Cable members for a day of networking and workshops on March 18, 2016, with the goal of helping to keep this talent in our community.  Forum topics include planning for success in your first job, basics of networking, the “Hidden Language of Business” and developing your personal brand. Student participants are then invited to attend the April 12 RUTHERFORD Cable breakfast and ATHENA Young Professional recognition, as well as the April 28 ATHENA Award Ceremony. About 70 students are expected to attend,

The Forum is presented with the generous support of the Jennings and Rebecca Jones Foundation, whose mission is to support the establishment of innovative projects to serve the often-neglected motivated student.

In addition to founding Sponsor RUTHERFORD Cable and presenting Sponsor Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital, the ATHENA Awards are sponsored by Pinnacle Financial Partners, Ascend Federal Credit Union, Farrar|Wright PLLC, Parks, NHC Healthcare and State Farm, with additional support from Deloitte.

RUTHERFORD Cable Officers

Tara MacDougall, President

Veronica Terrell, President-Elect

Anne Davis, Past President

Gina Urban, Secretary

Elizabeth Abernathy, Treasurer