2020 ATHENA Awards Recipients Announced

September 16, 2020 WGNS Radio

MURFREESBORO)  The Rutherford ATHENA International Leadership Awards were held Wednesday (9/17/2020) at Embassy Suites to celebrate the accomplishments of 15 ATHENA nominees and five Young Professional nominees from the Rutherford County community. The 2020 ATHENA Award recipient is Diane Cummings Turnham, who was nominated by The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties.

Turnham serves as senior associate athletic director and as senior women’s administrator with MTSU Blue Raider Athletics. She currently chairs the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. Turnham earned a B.S. in elementary education from Lipscomb University and an M.S. in public health from Austin Peay State University.

The ATHENA Award recognizes an individual who excels in her profession, gives back to the community, and helps develop other leaders, especially women. Throughout her career, Turnham has advocated for scholarships, access, and parity in women’s sports. She began her 38-year career at MTSU as an assistant basketball coach.  Although she had never played or coached volleyball, she added the role of  head women’s volleyball coach to her basketball coaching duties in the early years to provide greater opportunities for women to play sports at MTSU.

Turnham quickly recognized a disparity in funding and facilities between men’s sports and women’s sports. “I never dreamed that there would be issues with these necessary elements to support a college athletic team. I was one of two female coaches at the time, and if I did not fight for these ladies, who would? I developed a fierce desire to fight for everything our women’s programs needed to succeed. That’s when I realized I would become an athletic administrator and change opportunities for our female athletes at MTSU,” she said.

Turnham fought for additional scholarships, better travel conditions, more operating funds, and better sports equipment. In addition, she fought for better practice, locker room and game facilities, as well as greater access to academic tutors, athletic trainers, and additional assistant coaches for each sport. She was an integral part of adding the women’s soccer and women’s golf programs at MTSU, which were accompanied by the NCAA full allotment of scholarships for these programs. She has also advocated for equal salaries for coaches as well as new or improved facilities for the women’s sports programs.

“If you walk into my office you see a wall filled with pictures of former athletes. Why? Because they tell the story of my life. If you invest in people, they will invest in you and themselves. They have all shaped my life and my profession in some wonderful ways. Athletes’ dedication, commitment to excellence and desire to excel have changed my life for the better. I do not see myself as a leader but as a servant, a person committed to making this world better for those around me,” she said.

Turnham was honored alongside fellow ATHENA nominees Gretchen Bilbro, Locally Owned Murfreesboro; Dr. Gloria L. Bonner, Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Ambassadors; Helene Colvin, Murfreesboro Rotary Club; Violet D. Cox-Wingo, NAACP Murfreesboro Branch; Bobbie Johnson, Pinnacle Financial Partners; Dr. Elizabeth R. LaRoche, Charity Circle of Murfreesboro; Dr. Mary Magada-Ward, Advance Rutherford; Jackie Morgan, RUTHERFORD Cable; Ladawna Parham, Junior League of Murfreesboro; Mary Esther Reed, Town Manager’s Office, Town of Smyrna; L’Oreal Stephens, MTSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women; Renee Toomer, Pi Nu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Kory G. Wells, League of Women Voters of Murfreesboro/Rutherford County; and Michelle Willard, American Association of University Women (AAUW), Murfreesboro Chapter.

The 2020 ATHENA Young Professional Award Recipient is LaShan Dixon, nominated by The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties. Like the ATHENA Award, the Young Professional Leadership Award recognizes an emerging leader under the age of 40 who exemplifies the ATHENA attributes and serves as a role model for young women.

Dixon earned a B.S. in physical education as well as an M.S. in health and human performance from Middle Tennessee State University. Dixon serves as assistant public health county director with the Rutherford County Health Department. In 2015, she developed and implemented the first Community Baby Shower with the Rutherford County Health Department in partnership with the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties.

Since 2015, she has partnered with The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties to help provide more than 2,100 families with essential baby supplies, working with more than 560 volunteers to assist with the event. “By collaborating with United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties we have been able to give new mothers and babies born in Rutherford County a positive start in life,” she said.

Dixon is also a spokeswoman for Beauty Behind Bars and has impacted more than 1,200 girls and women by partnering with schools, churches, and detention centers. “Serving in this role I have realized that passion is the choice to move forward with purpose, regardless of what it takes. Beauty Behind Bars is an official overall self-esteem program created to help women and girls break away from mental incarceration and self-imprisonment of low self-esteem, doubt, depression, suicide, and dream killing. During workshops and conferences, I teach about forgiveness, accountability, and the importance of loving self from the inside out,” she said.

Dixon’s fellow Young Professional Award nominees were; Gina Murfree DeJean, Charity Circle of Murfreesboro; Brittany L. Dinaso, Junior League of Murfreesboro; Ashley Holloway, RUTHERFORD Cable; and Cristin Wittwer, Murfreesboro Young Professionals.

Amelia Bozeman serves as chair of the ATHENA program and awards event. “The attributes of the ATHENA Leadership Model include authentic self, relationships, giving back, collaboration, courageous acts, learning, fierce advocacy, and celebration and joy. These traits are combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership: taking risks, assertiveness, and hard work, to prepare women to be successful leaders. Our community is fortunate to have women who support each other as we grow and develop in our careers, and we could not be more pleased to recognize these true exemplars.  We salute our nominees for their exceptional professional and personal leadership, accomplishments, and contributions,” she said.  

RUTHERFORD Cable 2019-2020 President Meagan Flippin said, “The eight attributes of the ATHENA Leadership Model align perfectly with RUTHERFORD Cable’s mission of moving women forward, and our values of collaboration, support and professional development, which is why this program is such a natural fit for RUTHERFORD Cable. These Young Professional and ATHENA nominees definitely demonstrate these attributes in the way they work, live, and engage in our community.  We applaud them for being such great role models for all of us,” she said.

The 2021 Rutherford ATHENA International Leadership Awards event is scheduled for April 23, 2021.