Honors students applaud Naegeli's Athena award

Members of the Honors College attended the Athena Valley of the Sun's annual HAIL Awards.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

When Honors College Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli heard that she was selected for the Athena Valley of the Sun Founder’s Award, she didn’t know how to feel.

Dr. Breanna Naegeli received the Founder's Award.

Especially since she would be following in the footsteps of a winner last year – Dr. Tacy Ashby, Senior Vice President of K12 Educational Development for Grand Canyon Education.

In Naegeli’s mind, she had some big shoes to fill.

“When I think of Dr. Tacy Ashby, I think authentic and sincere mentor, an exceptionally strong and driven female leader and a very accomplished professional,” she said. “When Dr. Kristine Quade told me I’d be receiving the same award … I couldn’t believe the news.

“Once the news had a moment to settle in, I was unbelievably grateful and sincerely humbled to even be considered.”

Thursday night, Naegeli was one of 10 honorees at the Athena Valley of the Sun’s HAIL (Honoring Athena Inspired Leaders) Awards in Scottsdale. Athena Valley of the Sun, the Arizona branch of the nonprofit Athena International, supports, develops and honors women leaders.

Through initiatives such as Grand Canyon University's Young Athena: Valley of the Sun Leadership Program, which started earlier this semester, students have the opportunity to learn leadership skills from established female leaders.  

It’s all about women supporting other women, a concept Naegeli credits with helping her reach this point in her life and career.

Honors College Program Manager Anya Cofrancesco accepted the award on Naegeli's behalf.

“It is because of the brilliant women I’ve met throughout the GCU community and the many more who are also affiliated with the Athena Valley of the Sun network that has really brought all of these exceptional opportunities to life,” she said. “Without having those relationships, and these incredible mentors, I don’t think any of this would be possible.

“It’s really just a blessing to have crossed paths with these amazing women along the way.”

Naegeli was personally selected by Quade after the Athena Valley of the Sun founder and College of Doctoral Studies faculty member saw her keynote speech during last fall’s makeup Commencement ceremonies.

“Hmm, this is all of the leadership principles, all eight of them," Quade told herself. "So, yep, I’ve got to get to know her a bit more.”

As she got to know her better, she added, "it was a no-brainer.”

Seeing the love that Naegeli poured into GCU’s new Young Athena Leadership Program only reinforced Quade’s selection.

Naegeli was unable to attend the ceremony, but there was no shortage of support for her recognition. Honors College Program Manager Anya Cofrancesco and a group of Honors students and Young Athenas attended the event and erupted in thunderous applause as Quade recognized Naegeli.

Cofrancesco accepted the award on her behalf.

“From someone who has known her for about seven years, I wanted to let you know that this award means a lot to her,” Cofrancesco told the audience. “When everybody talks about Dr. Bre, we know she is more than qualified for this award.

Dr. Kristine Quade, a College of Doctoral Studies faculty member, is the founder of Athena Valley of the Sun.

“I wanted to let her know, in Hawaiian spirit, how much she means to me as a role model, as a leader and as my mentor.”

Seeing Naegeli’s accomplishments acknowledged also was impactful for her students.

Amara Murray-Bell thought it was overdue.

“Oh my gosh. Finally,” she said. “We all see Dr. Bre in that amazing way that she is, and she does so much. She is a pioneer, truly.

“It’s really good to see her get that recognition that she has always deserved.”

As Young Athenas, Murray-Bell and her peers got to network and mingle with inspirational women from around the Valley. It was an opportunity for them to fully immerse themselves in the Athena community.

“It was amazing – not anything that I was expecting, but it was so amazing to see such influential women stepping up here today and sharing their experiences,” Murray-Bell said. “I just hope this grows and flourishes and I can see more of these beautiful women on GCU’s campus.”

But the Honors College wasn’t the only college represented. Dr. Parm Gulshan, a recent GCU doctoral graduate, also was honored.

Mesa Vice Mayor Jennifer Duff (left) gave Dr. Parm Gulshan (center) and Melissa Mena (right) their Champion Awards.

Outside of the Founder Award recipients, Athena Valley of the Sun organization members are tasked with selecting recipients who represent Athena’s four core values – illuminate, grow, champion and honor.

Gulshan and her Young Athena mentee – Melissa Mena, a former GCU student – were recognized as this year’s Champion Award recipients.

“I was super excited,” Gulshan said about the moment she learned of her nomination.

Her dissertation focused on women in leadership and incorporated several Athena leadership principles introduced to her to Quade, her content expert, and highlighted her as a champion for women.

To Gulshan, it’s about leading by example.

“I’ve always put myself in that position to try to be a role model. I think that’s just part of who I am,” she said. “I think getting this honor helps solidify something I already saw in myself, and now I feel like I have an avenue, a path to really make it happen.”

As part of the organization’s award selection committee, Dr. Chantel Dooley was tasked with selecting recipients who truly embody each value. It’s a group she describes as nothing short of inspiring.

“What the Athena awards are really about are those women who go above and beyond, living, eating and breathing the Athena leadership principles day in and day out,” she said. “Each one of these recipients inspired me.”

She wasn’t the only one.

“I’ve read about them, and I think it’s beautiful that they (Athena Valley of the Sun) looked at their core values and they looked at what they are doing,” said Delphine Bromell, who recently received her doctorate in organizational leadership from GCU. “I appreciate the ladies honored today for what they’re doing for the community.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Honors College kicks off special multiweek programs

GCU Today: Honors students tune into Colangelo’s wisdom


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