The Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship

The Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship recognizes the contributions of retired Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Barbara McNees, who for decades actively encouraged and supported the development of women leaders across the Pittsburgh region. The scholarship, a competitive award, pays the recipient’s tuition for attendance to an executive education program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business: the Carnegie Mellon Leadership & Negotiation Academy for Women. The academy was founded by the late 2011 ATHENA Award Recipient M.J. Tocci.


Criteria & Guidelines:

As of 2019, this scholarship program has targeted women leaders with eight or more years of experience leading people and/or projects. The goal is to equip mid-level leaders with the knowledge and tools needed to help them advance into the C-Suite or a more senior/executive role.

Additionally, in 2019, the scholarship committee began giving preference to awardees who have committed themselves and their employment to the public sector, not-for-profit sector, or entrepreneur/small business sector.




2019 Recipient of the Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship


Bridget Meacham Kowalski


Bridget Meacham Kowalski has been selected as the fourth annual recipient of the Barbara McNees Spirit of Athena Scholarship.

A native of Pittsburgh who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from the University of Notre Dame, Kowalski is the controller for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO).

Before joining the nonprofit PSO five years ago, Kowalski had multiple positions with increasing responsibility with several corporate employers. As a lifelong cellist, her current role marries her personal passion for music and the arts with her professional talents, which are key to the financial wellbeing of the important regional asset that is the PSO. Kowalski’s community involvement is wide-ranging, from serving on the Catholic Cemeteries board to serving as a founding board member and treasurer of the Brookline Teen Outreach. In her community and her workplace, she actively supports, mentors and advocates for women.


Previous Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship Awardees

2018 – Aleya Crable Jennings
2017 – Jennifer Van Dam
2016 – Rosamaria Cristello

Barbara McNees
Founder of Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship

Retired from the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce in 2013 after a career spent building consensus among business, community and civic leaders in the service of increasing economic opportunity across southwestern Pennsylvania. Among her lasting achievements has been the 1990 founding of the ATHENA Awards Program of Greater Pittsburgh, recognizing women who, through mentorship, help other women to succeed.

Each year the Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship will provide one woman the opportunity to attend, tuition-free, the Carnegie Mellon Leadership and Negotiation Academy for Women. Learn more about the program here.


Inaugural Sponsor

Elsie H. Hillman Foundation Prior to Elsie Hillman’s passing in August 2015, she guaranteed the funding of the first Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship as the first individual to pledge financial support.

Founding Sponsors

  • UPMC and UMPC Health Plan
  • Allegheny Conference on Community Development
  • Highmark Health
  • Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
  • Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.
  • Jones Day
  • Wendy & David Barensfeld Family Charitable Fund

You or your organization can contribute to the development of women’s leadership across the Pittsburgh region. Email Jenn Beer to learn more. Contributions of $100 or more to the Barbara McNees Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship are welcome and may be mailed to Spirit of ATHENA Scholarship Fund c/o Allegheny Conference on Community Development, 11 Stanwix St., 17th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222