LANCASTER — Recognized for her success in business, education, civic government and service to the community, University of Antelope Valley Chief Financial Officer and co-founder Sandra Johnson was presented with the 2019 Athena Award during a ceremony Thursday.
“She is passionate about changing lives through education,”said Ronda Perez, 2018 Athena Award recipient and the evening’s emcee in introducing Johnson.
The award is presented annually by the Zonta Club of the Antelope Valley to a woman who has attained and embodies the highest level of professional excellence in her business or profession, has devoted time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community and actively assists women in realizing their leadership potential.
“In everything she does, she gives back,” Perez said of Johnson, listing scholarships from the Marco and Sandra Johnson Foundation and the Caring for the Community annual charity event as examples.
She has also been involved in organizing a number of community events from the Smooth Jazz Festival to large blood drives, provides support to the Lancaster Sheriff’s Department and arts programs and is a motivational speaker to area youth about goal setting, never giving up and the power of looking in.
In addition to her work with the university, Johnson has served as Lancaster City Councilwoman and was recognized as the city’s 2009 Citizen of the Year along with her husband Marco.
The couple founded the school in 1997, transforming it into a regionally accredited higher education institution that today graduates more than 1,500 students a year.
Johnson has a California State Certification in Paralegal from Antelope Valley College and Watson College and a Masters in Education with a specialization in Curriculum Development and Outcomes Assessment, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, both from Aspen University.
Johnson immigrated to Lancaster from Chile in 1970. She and her husband have two children, Devion and Tiffany.
“What we do, we do because we’ve been taught to do by our parents,” Johnson said. “I just want to say thank you to my mom and dad for raising us to know that we’re here for a reason and to always, always give back.”
“To be in this panel of amazing women is truly a compliment in itself,” she said. “This is definitely our decade as women to show what we have been doing forever and to be part of this sorority is such an honor.”
Johnson was presented with the bronze Athena sculpture, which was donated by the family of Jane Frye, the 2010 Athena Award recipient who died last year. It will become the perpetual Athena sculpture for the Zonta Foundation of the Antelope Valley.
In addition to Johnson, six other exceptional Antelope Valley women were nominated for the award this year. They include Kathy Archuleta of the Antelope Valley Cemetery District’s Lancaster Cemetery; Sherry Chase, of Mary Kay cosmetics; elementary school teacher Leah Fernquist; Nicol Gerstein, a communications specialist with Kaiser Permanente; Donna Giddens of the Antelope Valley Press; and Charmene Vega, founder, president and CEO of Mama Vega Enterprises.
“They work above and beyond their normal work obligations to make a difference not only in the lives of women in the community, but through their leadership and influence, it inspires the entire Antelope Valley,” Perez said. “By honoring exceptional leaders, the Athena Award program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.”
Previous Antelope Valley Athena Award recipients include Rosemary Dispenza, 1995; Susan Hogrefe, 1996; Sharon Tremain, 1997; Janice Kimrey Anderson, 1998; Anne Aldrich, 1999; Alis Clausen, 2000; Lou Bozigian, 2001; Ingrid Chapman, 2002; Judy Cooperberg, 2003; Lea Butterfield Vanderstok, 2004; Sherry Lasagna, 2005; Vivian Komori, 2006; Linda Jones, 2007; Berna Mayer, 2009; Jane Frye, 2010; Dayle DeBry, 2011; Sandy Corrales-Eneix, 2012; Sue Dell, 2013; Gwen Farrel, 2014, Regina Rossall, 2015, Sandy Smith, 2017 and Ronda Perez, 2018.
The Athena Award was first presented in 1982 and is administered by Athena International, an international non-profit organization dedicated to supporting, developing and honoring women leaders, inspiring women to achieve their full potential and create balance in leadership worldwide. There are more than 300 active award programs and more than 5,000 awards have been presented to recipients in the United States and around the world.
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