“I firmly believe that every single one of us has something special to do in this world. Know that following your heart is not an abstraction, but rather the key to good leadership and a fulfilling life. And as a wise mentor once told me, “Don’t miss the joy!”
With those words, Dorothy Horrell, PhD, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver, accepted the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CWCC) ATHENA Leadership Award on April 20, 2016. Horrell was chosen because of her extraordinary career and her indelible impact on the Denver community as a pragmatic visionary and innovative strategist.
The ATHENA Leadership Award from the International ATHENA organization identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: authentic self, relationships, giving back, collaboration, courageous acts, learning, fierce advocacy, celebration and joy. These personal traits, combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership, such as taking risks, assertiveness and hard work, are taken into consideration when bestowing the ATHENA Award on one successful and accomplished woman in the community.
During her 40-year career, Horrell has established a proven record of transformative leadership, having served as a high school teacher, state administrator of career/technical education, community college president, leader of the state system of community colleges, foundation executive, chair of a higher education governing board and now chancellor of CU Denver.
The entire arc of Horrell’s career has involved supporting and assisting women. She has consistently been a role model and mentor, often as the only or the first woman in a variety of leadership positions. She cites Mao Zedong’s quote that “Women hold up half the sky” when describing her leadership approach, which involves empowering people, and particularly women, with the knowledge, opportunities, and skills to reach their highest potential.
In accepting the award, Horrell thanked the CWCC for its support of women “who make our communities and our state such vibrant places where opportunities to make a positive difference are abundant.” She thanked the other finalists, her colleagues at CU Denver and her bosses through the years, including Bruce Benson and Jerry Wartgow. She also paid tribute to her late parents, seven siblings (two of whom had traveled to be at the awards dinner), her daughter, granddaughter and husband.
For 19 years, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce has hosted the annual ATHENA Award in Denver. The ATHENA Leadership Model® was developed by ATHENA International through a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in 1982. Since the program’s inception, more than 7,000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in eight countries. There were more than 200 people in attendance at the Denver award dinner held at The Ritz-Carlton Denver.