Lessons from an ATHENA

Our 34th Annual ATHENA Awards finalists are making waves across West Michigan. Check out some of the words of inspiration they shared with us during the awards process!


ATHENA Leadership Award Finalists


Sonali Allen | Senior Vice President, Chief Compliance & Community Development Officer, Mercantile Bank

“You cannot be in three places at one time. It’s humanly impossible. You have to make sacrifices. And I think our society doesn’t understand the sacrifices single women make in order to get where they get. It’s complex decisions that you’re solving every day.”

“I don’t believe the road is easy, but I believe it’s tenacity, it’s perseverance.”


Shorouq Almallah | Director, Grand Valley State University Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

“Entrepreneurship is the ultimate source of advantage, and that has been my passion.”

“It’s not just about starting a business. It’s about being a change agent and make a difference in our own communities.”


Sara Armbruster | President & Chief Executive Officer, Steelcase, Inc.

“Leadership is having a point of view. If you’re not willing to come out and say, ‘this is what I believe, or this is what I think we should do’, then you’re not really embodying leadership.”

“When you empower people and create opportunity for people to say this is what we need to do, or this is what we think we want to do, people grab that and run with it and accomplish great things.”


*Rosalynn Bliss | Mayor, City of Grand Rapids

“When I was first elected, I would walk into a room, especially a room full of mayors, and nationally – where a lot of people don’t know me – people would be like, ‘And who are you?’ It just amplified for me how much work we have to do.”

“We have this incredible opportunity as women to support other women and help them be their best selves and support them in leadership roles to be successful.”

“There is no problem that we can’t solve.”


Latesha A. Lipscomb, JD | Director of Engagement & Relationships, Amplify GR

“I want to see people live their best lives. If in the process I’m making waves, then I know that I’m truly having impact. If you don’t have influence, then you don’t have impact. And if you don’t have impact, you can’t really change lives.”

“It’s so important to be a mirror and a window. I know there’s a little black or brown girl out there that’s looking at me and I want to be an example for her so that she knows she can make a difference in community too.”


ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award Finalists


Renida Clark | Director of Workforce Development, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology

“I don’t want other women to wait. I want them to be their true, authentic self, to own who they are, to own what they think, and to use their voice. Because it matters.”

“No one does anything by themselves. I didn’t get here by myself. We all need someone.”

“Leadership looks like sharing my story with my students and encouraging them, and letting them know that their lived experience is valuable.”


*Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez | Executive Director, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan

“I wanted to make sure everybody was paid fairly. We were able to make huge increases in the first year. These women are now more committed to the work because they’re not worried about just focusing on their own needs.”

“There’s still lots of work to be done.”


Stella Michael | Director of Digital Services, Priority Health | Corewell Health

“At every crossroad in my life, I had a choice to either give up or keep going.”

“I think it’s really important that we encourage everyone around us to be the best version of themselves so they’re comfortable, whether it’s their flaws, their strengths, their opportunities to grow, whatever that might be. Don’t undersell yourself at all.”

“Sometimes somebody needs to take the chance to challenge the status quo.”


Allie Walker | President, Truscott Rossman

“Women are often put in a position to minimize those things that make us special and things that make us excel because the men around us don’t understand it or are intimidated by it.”

“If we’re not encouraging women to be themselves, we’re missing out on the 50% of the good ideas, the excitement, the passion.”


Carrie Wilson | Owner & Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Construction

“It’s really important to support women in the workplace, not because women are better, but because we are different.”

“If we’re not lifting each other up and pointing out the value in one another, then we’ll stay exactly where we’ve been put, because it’s human nature.”

“You blow away the stereotypes when you’re able to connect and convey that you bring real value here.”


ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award Finalists


Grand Valley State University

“If you look across all company levels, you will see more and more women as we aspire to have this gender balance. But more than that, that they’re more than included they are empowered through their work and their ability to have an impact.”

“ATHENA calls us all to bring someone else along. When you bring them along, you’re changing the opportunities for everyone today and everyone tomorrow.”



“Women of Steel plays a critical role in making our business better. They are an inspiration to all of us, in our workforce and in our community. They are demonstrating that when you have this passion, this desire, and you have someone that can help you to connect with opportunity, it can bring out the best in you – you can grow and you can achieve anything you want in life, and you can also create a better future for your family.”


Treetops Collective

“Treetops Collective is a nonprofit organization that works with refugees and immigrants, mostly women, to give them a sense of belonging. They have to know what their worth is. They have to know that they are valued. They have to know that they make a difference.”

“Our goal at Treetops is to come empower women and bring them to a point where they feel independent, confident and trust themselves – that they are capable of doing what they need to do for themselves and for their family.”


*Indicates 2023 award recipients.


Get Even More Inspired

Missed the celebration? Read more about our finalists here!


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