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ATHENA Award
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The ATHENA Award honors women and men who strive towards the highest levels of professional accomplishment, who excel in their chosen field, have devoted time and energy to their community, and who pave paths for other women to follow. 

The ATHENA Award celebrates the potential of all women as leaders of the community and recognizes those who support them.

The ATHENA Award was created by former Lansing Chamber President Martha Mertz in 1982 and has since spread around the world. More than 6,000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.


2018 Recipient - Suzy Merchant, Michigan State University Women’s Basketball

Suzy Merchant, head coach of the Michigan State University women’s basketball team, was recognized by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce as the 2018 ATHENA Award, which honors individuals who strive toward the highest levels of professional accomplishment, excel in their chosen field, devote time and energy to their community, and pave paths for other women to follow.

“Suzy Merchant is a great leader on and off the basketball court,” said Tim Daman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Her success in building the MSU women’s basketball into national prominence is matched by her work in preparing student athletes for life after basketball. Her leadership in the community, most notably in founding the empowHER leadership retreats is inspirational. She is truly a role model who embraces qualities that all great leaders should possess.”

In all her years in the Greater Lansing area, Merchant has gone to great lengths to become an integral part of the community. In her time off the court and out of the office, Merchant can be seen at many community service events in the greater Lansing area. She has been an Honorary Chair for numerous Sparrow Hospital Foundation events, including Hike for Hospice, W3 5K/Ok and Dapper Dads Runway Show. In addition to the Sparrow events, Merchant has been the honorary chair for Ele’s Place, MSU Children’s Health Initiative, Women’s Center of Lansing, Haven House, Ronald McDonald House, Advent House Ministries, Old Newsboys’ Shoe and Coat Drive, and Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2016, Merchant helped create the empowHER Retreat. empowHER is designed to build confidence in girls in grades 4th through 8th, by providing interactive workshops concentrated on the importance of self-empowerment, confidence, health and wellness and relationship building. Last year’s empowHER retreat served over 425 girls from the state of Michigan.

Beginning her second decade at the helm of the Michigan State women’s basketball team, Merchant’s success is undeniable. Entering her 12th season as head coach of the MSU women’s basketball program, Merchant has proven to be one of the best coaches in Michigan State history and a force in the Big Ten Conference. Through her first 11 seasons, Merchant has brought the Spartan program to the upper echelon at the Big Ten and national level.

The Spartans have finished third or better in the Big Ten in eight of the last 11 seasons, and her conference record of 118-68 (63.4%) is in the top-12 career winning percentage in the 34-year history of the Big Ten and is the fourth-highest percentage among active coaches. The Spartans have won at least 20 games in nine of her 11 seasons.

“It is an awesome responsibility to be their second mom and help guide them through some challenging situations and celebrate their successes,” said Merchant. “There are a lot of changes that go on in college between the ages of 18 and 22 and a lot of choices that young people can make. As coaches, our job is to do the best we can to support them and develop them as people.”

Merchant has been widely lauded for her work as a coach, leader and mentor, and has been recognized for that work by being named the recipient of the 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award, a recognition that caught her by surprise.

“I have certainly appreciated what ATHENA is all about and am truly honored and humbled,” said Merchant.

ATHENA Award Recipients

2018 - Suzy Merchant

2017 - April Clobes

2016 - Joan Jackson Johnson

2015 - Sarah Jennings

2014 - Dr. June Pierce Youatt

2013 - Kelly Rossman-McKinney

2012 - Stella Cash 

2011 - Nancy McKeague

2010 - Nell Kuhnmuench

2009 - Tiffany Dowling

2008 - Rachelle Neal

2007 - Paula Blanchard-Stone

2006 - Sheri Jones

2005 - Paula Cunningham

2004 - Lou Anna K. Simon

2003 - Theda Rudd

2002 - Carol Conn

2001 - Mary Ellen Sheets

2000 - Virginia Hilbert

1999 - Suzanne Beekman Mills

1998 - Sandra Draggoo

1997 - Marianne E. Samper

1996 - Joan E. Bauer

1995 - Priscilla J. Peterson

1994 - Helen Pratt Mickens

1993 - Dawn E. Springer

1992 - Patrick D. Hanes

1991 - Eva Evans, Ph.D.

1990 - The Honorable Debbie Stabenow

1989 - Mildred Erickson

1988 - Hortense G. Canady, Ph.D.

1987 - Marcia Jensen Spencer

1986 - Martha Mertz

1985 - Alyson W. Steele

1984 - Sister Mary Janice Belen

1983 - Lucille E. Belen

1982 - Dr. MaryLee Davis

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