Among many things, the goddess Athena is associated with wisdom, courage and strength. The 10 finalists for the ATHENA – an award bestowed by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (and sponsored by Buffalo Magazine) that honors the valuable contributions made by individuals to advance the status of women in the region – exude these qualities in their professional and personal lives, empowering and inspiring future leaders in the community.
Here’s a snapshot of where this year’s finalists got started, who they leaned on along the way, how they’ve persevered and what they’ve accomplished.
Leadership Award Finalists
Dr. Catherine Collins
Member, New York State Board of Regents
Adjunct Professor, Niagara University, Dept. of Professional Studies Ph.D. program
Interests outside career: Dancing the waltz with the Amherst Victorian Dancers.
First job: Nurse’s Aide at Children’s Hospital.
Other firsts: First female and African American in 234 years to hold elected position on the NYS Board of Regents representing the 8th Judicial District.
Life as an author: Written and/or edited 13 books, including academic and self-help books for women; recently completed first children’s book.
Plant Manpower Planner/Coordinator
General Motors Tonawanda Engine
Born in: Flint, Michigan
Highlight of my career: Being a part of the General Motors, Chevrolet and Diversity Communications team that was a driving force in seeing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. completed.
Biggest supporters: My parents were my biggest fans and the ultimate role models. They believed in me, and my leadership skills, before I believed in myself.
Best piece of advice I’ve been given: It only takes a second to get in trouble, but it may take a lifetime to get out of it.
Advice for women just starting out: Always stand in your truth, even if sometimes you have to stand alone.
Lieutenant Governor, New York State
Superpower: Ability to clone, so I really can be everywhere at once.
What it means to be an ATHENA finalist: I consider it a privilege to represent all the people of New York State, but it is particularly gratifying to be among many outstanding awardees in my hometown.
Biggest accomplishment of my career: Being a voice for women in New York fighting for equal rights and protections as the only female statewide elected official.
Best piece of advice: Do not let anyone hold you back, including yourself. If you want to have people believe in you and have confidence in you, you first must have it in yourself.
Why I like WNY: There is more energy here and excitement about living here than at any time in my lifetime.
Althea E. Luehrsen
Leadership Buffalo, Inc.
Guilty pleasure: Smoking an occasional cigar.
Most likely to: Never retire.
Biggest accomplishment: Having the tenacity to put myself through college (three degrees) while working full time as a single mother.
Best part of my job: Breaking down biases and stereotypes to open peoples’ eyes and minds.
What I hope lies on the horizon: For our community to truly become one Buffalo. There is so much positive happening in our city but there are still many who are struggling. It’s important that with our renaissance we provide opportunities to all our citizens.
Carla Singleton, Assoc. AIA
President & CEO
Singleton Construction Consultants, Inc.
Interests outside career: Gospel music, Buffalo Bills, cooking.
What it means to be an ATHENA finalist: It is humbling to be recognized in the same class as others worldwide who have realized professional and personal accomplishments. These women have both impacted their communities and buoyed those attempting to reach their goals.
Biggest obstacle I’ve overcome: My shyness.
Why I like WNY: The warm and friendly people, the beauty of the seasons, and the fabulous architecture.
Tanya M. Staples
Director, Community Schools
Say Yes Buffalo
Guilty pleasure: “Law & Order, Special Victims Unit.”
Career highlights: Partnered with Child and Family Services to establish Transitional Housing for women at Haven House, and with the IRS to launch the first Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Biggest obstacle I’ve overcome: I’ve had to have a great deal of patience as I continue to make progress after being diagnosed with Bells Palsy two-and-a-half years ago.
Best advice I’ve ever been given: Perseverance and resilience are your best friends.
Advice for women just starting in the workplace: Only compare yourself to you.
Freed Maxick CPAs PC
Best descriptor: Determined.
What this recognition means: It is extremely humbling. I hope other women can better envision their own career paths and success, and be encouraged and empowered.
Dealing with disappointment: Many of my greatest achievements started with adversity; it drives me to make an impact.
Career highlight: I was the first woman at Freed Maxick to be on the firm’s Executive Committee, taking a seat at the table where decisions are made that affect the future of the firm.
Advice for women just starting out: Challenge yourself to take opportunities outside your comfort zone and don’t wait to be asked.
Young Professional Leadership Award Finalists
Majority Leader & Founder of The College Simulation Experience
Erie County Legislature
Most likely to: Invite you to lunch.
On facing adversity: The world of government tends to be a “boys’ club” at times. Choosing my battles wisely is important.
Best part of my job: Having a platform to create effective change through law and policy for those whose voice is often silenced.
Advice I’d give to women just starting out: Living as though you’ve already reached your career goals helps keep you focused in times of frustration and defeat.
Best piece of advice I’ve been given: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I whisper this phrase to myself daily.
The Bonadio Group
First job: Working in a dentist’s office in high school to pay for the damage to a car that I wrecked.
Career highlight: Starting the Lean In group in our office to provide support and mentorship for women in the firm.
What obstacles I’ve faced: As a fairly young female partner, I can’t tell you how many times we walk into a meeting and I’m treated differently than my counterparts.
Someone who has helped me along the way: Denise Gueli, a partner in my firm, has taught me how to set boundaries and take control of my career.
Best piece of advice I’ve ever been given: Don’t let the bad stuff “rent space” in your head.
Reetuparna (Reena) Dutta
Hodgson Russ LLP
Most likely to: Start dancing before anyone else does and probably before it’s appropriate.
Volunteer highlight: As a United Way Board member, I spearheaded the creation of Next Generation United, which engages young professionals to make tangible differences in the community.
What I like best about my career: I often see people at their most vulnerable and am grateful to be able to offer hope, comfort and solutions.
Who has helped me most along the way: My parents sacrificed a life with their families in their native India to give me the best opportunities the world had to offer.
Why I like WNY: People are so connected, and invested in working together and helping each other.
Partner & President
Superpower: Parallel parking.
One of my proudest accomplishments: Being able to say I’ve helped create and establish jobs — hopefully meaningful, joyful ones — for our region.
What it means to be an ATHENA finalist: I am honored to be recognized for my work amongst not only my peers but those I admire and look to for inspiration.
A career highlight: Persuading The New York Times to cover the 43North finals which, in part, led to Katie Couric’s inclusion of Buffalo in her “Rebuilding America” series with Yahoo!.
Best piece of advice I’ve been given? “When it’s right, it happens quickly.”
Vice President, Analytics and SEO
Eric Mower + Associates
Born in: Kumasi, Ghana.
Most likely to: Borrow a million books from the library and only get around to reading one .
What I like most about my chosen career: That I’m in a STEM field that’s in a constant state of transition; it drives me to stay relevant.
Biggest obstacle I’ve overcome: Soon after arriving in the U.S. in my twenties, I fought immigration battles for nearly ten years to gain guardianship rights to my youngest siblings so they would not be deported.
What I hope lies on the horizon: A day when I can binge-watch stand-up comedy shows without interruption, and a day when Buffalo makes the Top 3 list for STEM professionals.
Born in: Snow Hill, North Carolina
Guilty pleasure: ‘80s and ‘90s TV.
On facing adversity: Before becoming Executive Director, I had several well-intentioned people warn me not to be too black, too radical or even too female.
What I like best about my career: Growing up as a Christian active in my faith-based community, I never imagined I’d work full time with pastors, rabbis, imans, faith leaders, and other members of the community on issues of shared interest.
Why I like WNY: Buffalo is large enough to make your own way, but small enough to not get lost and to still have meaningful relationships.
Also nominated: Nadine Hartrich, Operations Manager, Buffalo Manufacturing Works
Cheyenne Ketter-Franklin is this year’s [BN]spired winner, awarded to a “Say Yes” college scholarship recipient who has achieved the highest levels of academic, community and personal success. The youngest of five sisters, Ketter-Franklin attended Buffalo Public Schools starting in kindergarten, graduating from Bennett High School in 2018. She received her bachelor’s in business administration from University at Buffalo in 2017, and is expected to receive her MBA this month, graduating with a 3.8 GPA.
During college, Ketter-Franklin developed a program for kids aging out of foster care at Belmont Housing Resources, for which she was co-winner of a $2,000 “Pitch for a Cause” grant. She also won a $10,000 “100 Alumni Who Care Pitch” grant to fund a passion project that pairs master social work students and MBA students to aid local nonprofits. She was also the director of recruitment for UB’s Marketing Club, a student assistant for LeaderCore, part of UB’s MBA program, and a Darwin D. Martin House marketing volunteer.
To learn more about each of the ATHENA award finalists, visit Thepartnership.org/athena.