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Meet our 2023 ATHENA Awards Finalists

For over three decades, the ATHENA Awards Celebration has honored more than 100 local leaders that have made a difference for women.

This year, we’re celebrating thirteen incredible finalists who have helped create a vibrant and forward-thinking community. Join us in celebrating these trailblazers on Wednesday, September 20 and be the first to hear the recipients of our three prestigious ATHENA awards!

Meet the finalists below.

 

ATHENA Leadership Award Finalists

The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to an outstanding leader who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

 

Sonali Allen

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

ATHENA Principle: Collaboration

Sonali Allen is responsible for Mercantile Bank’s compliance activities for all regulatory requirements and for developing and implementing their community economic development programs, which have contributed nearly $11 million in grants towards affordable housing efforts across the state. Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and raised in Jos, Nigeria, she immigrated to the United States at seventeen to attend Calvin University for Accounting. Then she attended Western Michigan University, earning an MBA. She also holds the Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager certification from the Institute of Certified Bankers. A lifelong community volunteer, Sonali currently serves on the Board of Directors of Opportunity Resource Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution, Genesis Nonprofit Housing Development Corporation, an affordable housing nonprofit, and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. She is also a member of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Statewide FSS Coordinating Committee and actively teaches financial empowerment classes for various nonprofit organizations. While successful in her career, she is most proud of her two daughters, Ayanna and Amani.

 

Shorouq Almallah

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

ATHENA Principle: Learning

Shorouq Almallah is an ecosystem builder and an accomplished higher education professional with over 20 years of experience. In her current role, Almallah demonstrates excellence and leadership in designing and coordinating entrepreneurial education programs in West Michigan. She is responsible for creating a talent pipeline to foster entrepreneurial skill sets and mindset by preparing learners through expanded entrepreneurial curriculum and co-curricular activities. She is experienced in launching and running accelerators and tapping into the entrepreneurial ecosystem for resources and support to empower entrepreneurs. She has led numerous initiatives and developed high-impact experiential opportunities to drive entrepreneurship and innovation in the community to grow regional capability and capacity. She serves on several boards and committees, and her work has been recognized both locally and nationally. She is a lifelong learner and constantly strives to seek knowledge and new insights. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Linguistics, and a Master of Information Science from Indiana University, and earned her Master of Business Administration from Grand Valley State University.

 

Sara Armbruster

President & Chief Executive Officer, Steelcase, Inc.

ATHENA Principle: Authentic Self

Sara Armbruster is the President and CEO of Steelcase Inc., the company trusted by organizations around the world to create inspiring, sustainable, and adaptable workplaces. Sara became CEO in October 2021 after more than a decade with the company. Throughout her tenure with Steelcase, she has served in executive roles that have spanned strategy, innovation and technology, and business leadership. She is passionate about helping people do their best work by creating places that work better. Before joining Steelcase, Sara led strategy at Banta Corporation, and she previously worked for McKinsey & Company. Sara serves on the boards of directors of Steelcase and Winnebago Industries, and she is a member of the Business Roundtable. She also sits on the boards of Catalyst, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, The Right Place, the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, Business Leaders for Michigan, BIFMA, and the Steelcase Foundation. Sara holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, and an MBA from Dartmouth College.

 

Rosalynn Bliss

Mayor, City of Grand Rapids

ATHENA Principle: Authentic Self

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss became the City of Grand Rapids’ first female Mayor when she took office on January 1, 2016. She was re-elected for a second term in November 2019. She previously served as a Second Ward City Commissioner for 10 years. She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Alabama and a master’s in social work from Michigan State University. Her professional career includes teaching at Grand Valley State University in the Honors College and School of Social Work as well as work in the field of child welfare and domestic violence. She is Past President of the Michigan Municipal League and currently serves on the boards of the Downtown Development Authority, Experience Grand Rapids, Convention Arena Authority, Grand Rapids Promise Zone Authority, Housing Kent, ArtPrize 2.0, Urban Core Mayors, The Economic Club of Grand Rapids and the Interurban Transit Partnership. Mayor Bliss has been recognized and honored locally as well as statewide for her commitment, dedication and work in the field of child abuse and neglect and for her leadership in the community. As Mayor, she is committed to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, working to create a cleaner, healthier and safer community and has a commitment to addressing disparities in our community to make sure that Grand Rapids is a great place for everyone.

 

Latesha A. Lipscomb, JD

Director of Engagement & Relationships, Amplify GR

ATHENA Principle: Fierce Advocacy

Latesha Lipscomb is a Grand Rapids native who has a passion for working to better the lives of the city’s urban residents. Latesha previously served as the Community Engagement Project Manager, facilitating the Heartside Quality of Life Study for the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department. Latesha also held past roles with organizations such as the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute and the Inner-City Christian Federation, where she tirelessly advocated for those with quieter or muted voices in the city’s most vulnerable communities. Latesha is a graduate of Boston College where she studied Political Science and maintained a focus study in Faith, Peace & Justice. She studied American Government and Public Speaking through Junior Statesmen of America at Yale University and went on to graduate from Boston College Law School in 2005. Ms. Lipscomb adheres to the Jesuit ideal of “service to all mankind” and describes Community Engagement as her “purpose-driven life”. You can also find Ms. Lipscomb serving on several local boards and committees. Through these assorted collaborations with local groups, Latesha’s body of work is a shining example what authentic community partnership looks like and what everyday people can achieve when supported by a champion. Latesha loves to curate experiences for audiences and takes pride in hosting events that are empowering and uplifting for women in transition and teen girls. Latesha is girl power in the flesh and firmly believes that the future is female!

 

ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award Finalists

The ATHENA Young Professional Award is presented to an emerging leader who demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; serves as a role model for young women personally and professionally; and provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others.

 

Renida Clark

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

ATHENA Principle: Authentic Self

Renida Clark joined WMCAT in January 2021 and now serves as director of workforce development. Before moving into her current role, Renida was community resource navigator and learning facilitator for WMCAT’s Step Year program. Prior to WMCAT, she worked as a success coach at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) for nearly three years. Renida has more than six years of experience in career development, coaching, and teaching at the collegiate level. Renida earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Education in College Student Affairs Leadership from Grand Valley State University. She now serves on the board of directors for Girls on the Run West Michigan.

 

Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez

Executive Director, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan

ATHENA Principle: Courageous Acts

Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. With almost 10 years of experience in nonprofit administration, she has a proven record of implementing and growing successful programing for the Hispanic community in West Michigan. Evelyn and her family arrived from Mexico to the U.S when she was only 15 years old. Through her own personal experiences, Evelyn has become passionate about providing the Latinx community with a place where they are treated with respect, equity, and dignity. By building a strong, loyal, and committed team, Evelyn hopes to give our community a Center they know they can trust to receive the best services for their needs. Evelyn began her career in early childhood, serving in financial management where she had the opportunity to learn more about the need for increased support for Latinx families. Evelyn graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and General Business and recently completed a Master of Accountancy from Davenport University. Personally, Evelyn enjoys being a mom to her two young boys.

 

Stella Michael

Director of Digital Services, Priority Health | Corewell Health

ATHENA Principle: Giving Back

Stella Michael is an impact-driven, purpose-filled, and faith-led leader. She was born and raised in a small town in India. She graduated from BITS-Pilani, one of the Ivy League in Technology and Engineering in India, with a dual degree in Computer Science and Biological Science. She went on to work at multinational companies such as Qualcomm, Cypress Semiconductor, and Samsung before she moved to the US. In her current role, she is passionate about using technology to improve the accessibility and affordability of healthcare in our community while staying connected to purpose. She is the co-founder of Asian American Community Engagement (AACE), the Asian Business Resource Group at Corewell Health, which focuses on the empowerment and advocacy of the Asian American community within the organization. Her community engagements include serving as the Chairperson of the board of the West Michigan Asian American Association, and is involved in other boards at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and the Create Great Leaders Council at the Grand Rapids Chamber.  She is also an advocate for international students, immigrant workers and women in the workplace, and women in technology. She mentors and coaches women and men to realize their full potential and purpose in life. She is a busy mom of three little kids and enjoys spending time with her family.

 

Allie Walker

President, Truscott Rossman

ATHENA Principle: Authentic Self

Allie leads Truscott Rossman’s day-to-day operations, ensuring firm-wide excellence and creativity. She supports local, statewide and national clients with integrated strategies and client service management, plus an attention to detail and knack for organization that earns her accolades from colleagues and clients, alike. Allie joined Truscott Rossman after spending more than seven years in Washington, D.C., where she coordinated strategic communication strategies on Capitol Hill and in the private sector. During her time on Capitol Hill, Allie served in a dual role as the press secretary for Congressman Dave Camp (R-Midland) and the deputy press secretary for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. There, she developed and implemented communications strategies supporting congressional legislation and initiatives ranging from protecting the Great Lakes to healthcare and tax reform. Following Congressman Camp’s retirement, Allie oversaw communications for Honda North America Inc.’s government relations office. While at Honda, Allie managed the communications team and developed content related to transportation, environment and trade policy, workforce development, and investment.

 

Carrie Wilson

Owner & Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Construction

ATHENA Principle: Relationships

Carrie Wilson is the owner and CEO of Freedom Construction, a commercial construction management company serving West Michigan. Carrie has over a decade of experience in leadership and customer service in multiple industries, and she works to build a business that puts people and community first. Freedom Construction’s mission is “To build and serve with character and purpose,” with a focus on helping to build generational wealth in traditionally underemployed and disadvantaged groups. One way the company reaches for this goal is by increasing bid access opportunities for minority-owned, veteran-owned and woman-owned trade partners and suppliers wherever possible. Another avenue for community impact is a company-wide commitment to mentorship and coaching for other women, minority, and small business leaders. Currently, Carrie is a member of the Grand Rapids Rotary Club, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Byron Center Chamber of Commerce, Family Business Alliance, Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, and is a Board Member for the Van Singel Fine Arts Center Foundation. In her free time, you’ll find her playing volleyball, riding horses, travelling, and most commonly, spending time with her husband Matt, and two children, Kira and Matthew.

 

 

ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award Finalists

The ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award recognizes an organization that supports, develops and honors women leaders. These organizations create a culture that encourages women to achieve their full leadership potential and give back to the larger community of women and girls by supporting leadership initiatives.

 

Grand Valley State University, established in 1960, is a four-year public university. It attracts nearly 22,000 students with its high-quality programs and state-of-the-art facilities. Grand Valley provides a fully accredited liberal undergraduate and graduate education and has campuses in Allendale, Grand Rapids, and Holland, and regional centers in Battle Creek, Detroit, Muskegon, and Traverse City. Grand Valley is a comprehensive university, serving students from across Michigan and dozens of other states and foreign countries. Grand Valley offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in 300+ areas of study. The university is dedicated to individual student achievement, going beyond the traditional classroom experience, with research opportunities and business partnerships. Grand Valley employs more than 3,000 people and is committed to providing a fair and equitable environment for the continued success of all.

 

Steelcase is a global design and thought leader in the world of work. For over a century, we have designed, manufactured and partnered with the world’s leading organizations to create furnishings and solutions for the many places where work happens — including learning, health and work from home. Through our research, we deliver insights and design innovation to our customers around the world. Our solutions are brought to life through our Steelcase dealer community, Steelcase store and retail partners. And because we’re dedicated to doing our best work for the places we all share, we come together for people and the planet — using our business to help the world work better.

 

Treetops Collective partners with immigrant and refugee women and teen girls who are working to make West Michigan home. Our programs are designed to invest in dynamic leaders as they rebuild social and economic capital in ways that acknowledge and transcend common barriers our newest neighbors face to finding belonging and sharing their gifts with their new communities.

 

Hear the Recipients Announced Live!

Join us at the ATHENA Awards Celebration on Wednesday, September 20 to celebrate these amazing leaders.

Details Here

 

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