MTSU chemistry professor earns ATHENA International Award

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MTSU chemistry professor Judith Iriarte-Gross found herself “totally surprised” when her name was announced as the inaugural recipient of the ATHENA International Leadership Award.

“There were 13 other wonderful, amazing nominees, and all of them deserved it,” said Iriarte-Gross, who was handed the “prestigious award” by Martha Mayhood Mertz, the ATHENA International Awards founder and event guest speaker.

The award, presented by RutherfordCABLE, a women-in-business networking organization, was the highlight of the event, which was held May 15 at Stones River Country Club.


Dr. Jean Anne Rogers, 2014 Rutherford ATHENA chair, called Iriarte-Gross “such a deserving recipient of our inaugural Rutherford ATHENA Award, and we salute her.”

MTSU’s June Anderson Center and National Women’s History Month Committee nominated Iriarte-Gross. She and the other nominees were recognized for their exceptional professional and personal leadership, accomplishments and contributions.


“I feel truly honored to receive this award,” said Iriarte-Gross, who has led the charge to make young women aware of careers in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “My passion is to inspire girls to explore STEM, provide girls with role models and see these young women graduate as STEM professionals.”

Iriarte-Gross said women comprise less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce, and mentors can make a huge impact and difference.

“Without my mentors, I would not be a Ph.D. chemist,” she said.

Rogers said the honoree “has used her life story to give back” and “has been a strong advocate for girls, not only encouraging them to go to college, but also to major in nontraditional STEM fields.”

Mertz read the inscription on the back of the statuette, a signed and numbered piece of art. It stated: “What is honored in a country will be cultivated here.”

Iriarte-Gross helped plant another Expanding Your Horizons seed in Tennessee May 17. She and her husband, Charles Gross, traveled to Morristown for the first East Tennessee EYH Conference at Walters State Community College. The 18th annual EYH at MTSU will be held Saturday, Sept. 20.

Iriarte-Gross was a February 2013 recipient of the President’s Silver Column Award, presented by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee. She had earned numerous other honors in her career.

Other nominees with MTSU connections included:

• Faye Johnson, assistant for special initiatives to the MTSU provost and alumna, nominated by the League of Women Voters of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County;

• Ayne Cantrell, an alumna and professor emerita in English and teacher in women’s studies, who was nominated by the American Association of University Women of Murfreesboro, whom she now works with to bring attention to women’s rights;

• Jacqueline Wade, retired associate professor of social work and lecturer in the African-American studies program and founder and president of Wade Educational Programming and Consultation Services, nominated by Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Pi Nu Omega Chapter;

• Melanie Clifford Cavender, alumna and older adult coordinator with the Rutherford Community Family YMCA, which nominated her;

• Tara MacDougall, CEO of Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, former marketing and development director for the Division of Continuing Studies and an alumna married to chemistry professor Preston MacDougall, nominated by RutherfordCABLE;

• Meagan Flippin, alumna and president and CEO of the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties, nominated by the Junior League of Murfreesboro;

• Lori Williams, 28-year employee and controller for Murfreesboro Electric Department and alumna, nominated by Chi Omega fraternity; and

• Felicia Shirley, alumna and Nissan North America Smyrna plant finance team member, nominated by Nissan Smyrna Women’s Business Synergy Team.

“We at the June Anderson Center and NWHM Committee are so proud of your well-deserved accomplishment,” Barbara Scales, director of the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students, wrote in an email circulated across campus.

Scales also sent “best wishes” to Iriarte-Gross, an MTSU faculty member since 1996 and director of the MTSU WISTEM (Women in STEM) Center, for being nominated by Provost Brad Bartel for the 2014 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Science Foundation Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The award will be announced later this year.

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