ATHENAs are always prepared to accept a challenge, from building schools to negotiating peace abroad, these women leaders have an enviable list of accomplishments. Although they are the embodiment of success, during a recent Chamber event they also highlighted the value of failure in reaching the top.

On June 14, the 2015 ATHENA Award recipients – Leah Fregulia, head of school and CEO for Arizona School for the Arts; Melissa Sanderson, VP of international affairs for Freeport McMoRan Inc. and Ashley Kasarjian, counsel for Snell & Wilmer – shared the experiences and choices that shaped them into the business and community leaders they are today.

Among the discussion of their successes and triumphs, the panel moderator asked the trio to describe an instance where they weren’t so successful. Fregulia shared a moment that occurred shortly after the opening of the Arizona School for the Arts building in Phoenix when hear ears revealed that she hadn’t considered something in the building’s construction.

“You could hear tubas, flutes, everything in all the rooms and hallways,” Fregulia said. “Vents carry sound. We didn’t think of that when we started building.”

The school has robust music instruction, but also has classrooms featuring traditional classes and studies. Fregulia’s inexperience in construction led to this early issue, but her determination in getting it right also resulted in a quick resolution.

Sanderson and Kasarjian shared their own stories, emphasizing that reaching a high level of success is due in large part due to finding opportunities and new insights in adversity.

Sanderson relayed an experience about her time as a U.S. diplomat attempting to negotiate peace between warring political factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The building she was in came under attack and, instinctively, she took charge and made quick decisions under duress to ensure safety for herself and others.

“You just never give up. You always get up,” Sanderson said.

Leah Fregulia, Melissa Sanderson & Ashley Kasarjian

Leah Fregulia, Melissa Sanderson & Ashley Kasarjian

These are just a couple examples of what happens when failure and adversity are placed in the path of an ATHENA. ATHENAs push past failure and seize opportunities to do better; ensuring that failure becomes opportunity and opportunity becomes success.

Now, as nominations are open for the 2016 ATHENA Awards, our 2015 recipients share tips and advice for aspiring ATHENAs everywhere.

“Being an ATHENA is a challenge to continue to do more, find where you can have the most impact and continue to make a difference,” Kasarjian said.

Sanderson echoed Kasarjian in viewing the ATHENA award as both an honor and responsibility to continue their high levels of community involvement while remaining humble.

From the stage, this year’s ATHENAs reminded the audience to be on the lookout for successful women around them and to take the (short amount of) time to actually nominate them for the honor.

“Be engaged and be alert for other women to bring forward and raise up,” Sanderson said.

Almost a year after beginning the process to become ATHENAs, the 2015 recipients agreed that the connections and opportunities gained throughout the process are worth the time commitment.

“It’s a fantastic process. I encourage people to do it,” Kasarjian said. “You have the opportunity to think about what you’ve done and thank the people who’ve supported you. If I could do it again, I would.”


Click here to nominate a woman for the 2016 ATHENA Awards.

Written  by Alexie Chavez, marketing coordinator, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

Posted by Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce supports business growth and drives economic development in the region by helping members stay connected and prosperous, growing the economy through Phoenix Forward, our collaborative economic development partnership, and advocating for pro-business policies.