Last year we launched our Annual Scholarship Program, thanks to the generous fundraising efforts of Athena Study Abroad. Back at it again this year at NAFSA, here’s a little more about Athena Study Abroad, their fundraising efforts, and the energetic woman that makes everything they do possible — Stacy McKay Benander.
You and your husband co-founded Athena Study Abroad to provide authentic, immersive, and personalized international experiences for students. How did “giving back” become an important part of your mission?
Giving back has been at the center of Athena since its founding in 2005. As you mentioned, our organization was founded to give students authentic, immersive, and personalized international experiences, and in order to do that, it is imperative that we and our students are closely and actively connected with the local cultures abroad.
Therefore, we feel it is important that we (and our students) give back to the world that welcomes our students so closely during their study abroad experience. We believe that the seed of responsible global citizenry should be planted prior to students going abroad, so they can do active reflection on this value during their time abroad. Therefore, our S.O.S. program has a number of components that are designed to get students planning and thinking about this before their program abroad even begins, as well as during the programs and after they return.
Why do you feel passionate about inspiring students to expand their education and take advantage of unique learning opportunities abroad?
I believe study abroad imparts not just knowledge to students, but wisdom.
Why do so many cultures revere the elderly? This is not just because the elderly know things, but because they are wise. They have lived through so many things. The elderly base their wisdom not just on what they’ve read or been told, but on their experience of living through things. The value of experience cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to study abroad and the learning of young people.
You can know a lot about the world through reading about it, but only when you have gone out and experienced it – seen another culture first-hand, seen what it is to be “the other” in another person’s land – only then do you begin to develop the life experience to be wise. This is such a cornerstone principle of ours that it is the reason we are named Athena – after the Greek goddess of Wisdom.
Tell us a bit more about how the idea for your S.O.S. program was developed and what it is all about.
S.O.S. has been a part of our organization since the beginning. At first, S.O.S. stood only for “Students Offering Support,” which refers to the component of our programs where each student selects the Athena charity they want to support and we make a donation in the student’s name to that charity.
Through the years as our company has grown, we have continued to look for opportunities to expand the breadth and impact that our organization can have in giving back to the world, both locally and globally. In doing so, our S.O.S. program grew along with us! S.O.S. then expanded on to refer to “Staff Offering Support,” a program where Athena staff actively volunteer as a team in our community to set an example for our students that we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk!
Then S.O.S. grew to include “Scholarships Offering Support” in which we allocate scholarships (up to $8,000 per student) specifically reserved for students who have a history of global citizenry. The most recent S.O.S. component we added was “Sponsorship Offering Support” in which we, as an organization, give aid through sponsorship to local and global charitable organizations, by sponsoring their events, donating our time to assist in fundraisers, and more – we have even created a full website for a charity in need!
What inspired you to take your commitment to global giving to the next level by establishing an annual fundraiser at NAFSA?
I know that I don’t need to sell the int’l ed community on the concept of giving back to the world; it is a very charitable and globally conscious group! I do know, though, that it can be difficult to find ways (or dedicated time) to give back as much as we may want to with all of our busy lives. What better way to get out the message of global giving than at the biggest meeting of international educators in the world?
By giving NAFSAns the opportunity to donate to one of Athena’s S.O.S. Charities (this year the recipient being the GoAbroad Foundation!) int’l educators can make a difference right there in the Expo Hall. We at Athena also do a DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR match up to $1,000, so we hope that our fellow givers will strive to ensure we give every one of those dollars! In addition, since every donor gets a token gift of thanks for their generosity to wear around the rest of the conference, it will hopefully inspire more givers!
How’d the First Global Give Fundraiser turn out?
With the donations raised last year at NAFSA through our First Annual Global Give Fundraiser as well as Athena’s dollar-for-dollar donation match, we were able to donate enough to the GoAbroad Foundation to result in the creation of a new Annual Scholarship Award that supports a student in the Philippines to go to school for an entire academic year! We were beyond thrilled with the support we received last year from our fellow international educators and are very excited to continue giving to this amazing charity this year.
How are you spicing up the fundraiser for its second run at NAFSA? How are you encouraging people to get involved?
At NAFSA 2017 in L.A., we will be celebrating the 2nd Annual Athena’s Global Give Fundraiser. This year Athena will be donating stylish map bracelets as gifts for all donors. But that’s not all!
As our team was planning and strategizing this year’s fundraiser over lunch, we found ourselves in a discussion about the current state of the world and what we all thought the world could use more of. Now, it goes without saying that the world could use a lot more of a bunch of things, but we want to know what the international education community thinks the world needs the most right now: Compassion, Self Awareness, Tolerance, and Wisdom.
We as international educators have a lot of thoughts on the subject, so we encourage everyone attending NAFSA to stop by our booth (#1831) at NAFSA, cast your vote, and tell us why you think the world needs more of one of these virtues the most.
Whichever virtue receives the most votes will become a part of the scholarship essay prompt for the GoAbroad Foundation’s Annual Scholarship Program in the Philippines this year! We are so excited for this, because the story of our supporters’ donated dollars won’t stop in LA – EVERYONE will be able to follow along with the adventure of choosing the scholarship recipient, hearing what the recipient has to say about the top chosen virtue (as selected by the int’l ed community), and how it relates to education.
Want to know more?
Follow along as Athena Study Abroad and GoAbroad provide updates on the fundraiser during the conference and then check back here for official updates after the conference concludes. We will add new information here –>