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About Athena | Athena is a premier women's advocacy organization that fast tracks women in STEM through leadership development. By transforming scientists and technologists into corporate leaders, the goal is to widen the bridge to advance1 million women in STEM, by 2030. Its 25 year history of advancing women in a global STEM hub marks Athena as a premier women’s empowerment advocate. Founded in 1998, Athena members feature executives, aspiring leaders, entrepreneurs, and academia from all sectors of life sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, healthcare, defense, as well as the associated service providers.


Holly Smithson, Chief Executive Officer | Serving as Athena’s CEO since 2017, Holly Smithson previously served as Vice President, Business Strategy at the California Life Sciences Association, the nation’s largest statewide advocacy organization for the life sciences sector. Smithson previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer at Cleantech San Diego. Smithson worked in public policy for a decade as a Presidential Appointee at several federal agencies and as a registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C.  


Smithson began her career in broadcast journalism as a news director and anchor for several television and all-talk radio stations. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Executive Leadership Program and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in broadcast communications from East Carolina University.  


She has been recognized by multiple organizations, including San Diego Business Journal (CEO of the Year | 2019), San Diego Business Journal (Business Woman of the Year | 2019)  Xconomy (Diversity Champion Finalist | 2019), San Diego Magazine (Woman of the Year Finalist | 2019),  Delegate on California Governor Brown’s Trade Mission to China, 2013.




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Holly Smithson

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Sophia Harrell 
Program Manager

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Sheri Carr
Head of Digital Communications

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Susan Poser
Board Chairwoman

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