1-866-9-ABROAD / Parents / Advisors
Staff Bios
Get to know us!

U.S. Staff

Stacy McKay Benander

President & Founder

Education: B.A. Spanish, Communications/Public Relations from John Carroll University; M.A. Social and Cultural Foundations (Cultural Studies and Education), The Ohio State University
Study Abroad Locations: Toledo, Spain; Seville, Spain; Bogota, Colombia
Hometown: Greenville, Pennsylvania

“Tolerance is built through knowledge, and knowledge is gained most effectively through experience.  Study abroad teaches university students that knowledge has no borders.”

Complete Bio

During her undergraduate degree, Stacy McKay Benander studied abroad in Toledo, Spain, in order to solidify her fluency in the Spanish language.  The experience of study abroad was a life-changing experience, and this was a driving force that motivated her to create Athena Study Abroad.

Stacy founded Athena Study Abroad with the goal of providing personalized study abroad programs at small schools overseas. Athena aims to provide the opportunity for as many U.S. students as possible to study abroad, and by partnering with small schools abroad, Athena is able to guarantee true cultural immersion while also providing programs that will appeal to both small and large school students here in the US.

Stacy began working at an immigration law firm in Cleveland, becoming an expert in U.S. immigration procedures and policies, filing non-immigrant and immigrant petitions for executives and professionals around the country, and also serving as the firm’s Spanish language translator.

She then moved on to The Ohio State University to serve as an International Student and Scholar Advisor in the Office of International Education.  She advised many of the school’s 5,000+ international students on all aspects of immigration regulation and compliance, coordinated the university's international student orientation, and served as a DSO and ARO for SEVIS.

From there, Stacy served as the Director of the International Office at Ohio Dominican University where she oversaw all aspects of the university’s study abroad program creation and implementation, multicultural student services and programming, international student services, and international student admissions.

Stacy has been an involved member of NAFSA since 2002, including her most recent position as the Local Arrangements Chair for the Region VI conference in Columbus, Ohio. She was also chosen the recipient of the Experienced Professional Travel Grant in 2007. In 2010, Stacy was named one of Columbus' top forty business people under the age of 40 by Columbus Business First. Stacy was awarded the NAFSA Region VI's esteemed Leo Dowling Award of Excellence in 2014.

Stacy also gives back to her community through various volunteer positions. She serves as a Board Member for Strayhaven Animal Shelter in Greenville, PA. In the past, she has served as a Board Member for LEON (Latino Empowerment Outreach Network), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to building a healthy Latino community in Central Ohio through programs that educate and empower Latinos. Stacy has also served as a Board Member and Director of Volunteers at New Beginnings Animal Shelter, a non-profit animal rescue in the Columbus area.

Stacy earned her B.A. as a double-major in Spanish and Communications/Public Relations from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.  She also earned her M.A. degree in Social and Cultural Foundations (Cultural Studies in Education) Summa Cum Laude from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to her study abroad experience in Toledo, Spain during her undergraduate degree, she has also participated in intensive Spanish language study in Seville, Spain and Bogotá, Colombia.

Stacy and her husband, John, have one child, a son.

“Tolerance is built through knowledge, and knowledge is gained most effectively through experience.  Study abroad teaches university students that knowledge has no borders.”
~ Stacy McKay Benander

John Benander

Vice President of Development & Creative Director

Education: B.S. Computer Science (Mathematics Minor) from John Carroll University; Masters Level courses, Theology, Ohio Dominican University
Study Abroad Locations: Seville, Spain
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

“I truly believe in the importance of participating in the global community in order to spread awareness, understanding and compassion for all people of all nations.”

Complete Bio

John Benander is from Richmond Heights, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. He graduated as a Computer Science major and Mathematics minor from John Carroll University in Cleveland, while also studying masters level Theology at Ohio Dominican University. John has also studied abroad in Seville, Spain.

John played baseball at John Carroll and parlayed his interest and passion for the sport into a career off the field. He gained employment with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the online arm of Major League Baseball. As a Web Manager, Web Producer and Marketing Producer at MLBAM, John gained excellent experience in marketing, writing, coding, graphics and project management. In the fast-paced environment, John managed several teams' sites, including those of the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.

John then moved on to work as a Producer with the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s oldest and premier newspaper.

When his wife Stacy founded Athena Study Abroad, John was excited to get involved in a venture in which he could blend his work skills with his hope for progress toward global unity.  By helping students experience and learn other cultures, John believes he is doing a small part in offering a practical way to narrow the gap of fear that remains a major obstacle to world peace. John directs the technical and marketing efforts of Athena.

John and his wife, Stacy, have one child, a son.

Along with directing the technical and marketing efforts of Athena, John is working on a Masters of Theology at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio.

“I truly believe in the importance of participating in the global community in order to spread awareness, understanding and compassion for people of all nations.”
~ John Benander


Manager of Operations & Enrollment

Education: B.A. International Studies (Economics Minor) from The Ohio State University; Master's, Management, Case Western Reserve University
Study Abroad Locations: Zagreb, Croatia
Hometown: Munich, Germany

Complete Bio

Melanie, Manager of Operations & Enrollment

Melanie joins Athena Study Abroad with extensive experience working in Higher Education and more recently as an administrative management and business development consultant in the nuclear energy and workforce development industries. She has held several management positions in International Education including The Ohio State University and Drexel University, overseeing student services, administrative operations, process development and regulatory compliance. Melanie holds a B.A. in International Studies from The Ohio State University and a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University.

Brittany Reed

Program Specialist

Education: B.A. Studio Art and Organizational Communication (Minors in Religion and Cultural Studies) from Capital University
Study Abroad Locations: New Delhi & Kolkata, India; Florence, Italy
Hometown: Wilmington, Ohio

"There are things you learn from experiences that you just can't learn from a textbook. Traveling gives one the opportunity to see the world for themselves and experience life in a way they may have never even knew existed before."

Complete Bio

BRITTANY REED, Program Specialist

Brittany grew up in the small town of Wilmington in southwest Ohio. In the midst of leaving this small town to go off to the big city of Columbus, Ohio for college, Brittany discovered her desire to see the world. After a three week service-learning trip to India she fell in love with experiencing the world.

A mere month or two after arriving back in the states she made the decision to study abroad the following semester in Florence, Italy with Athena Study Abroad. Little did she know that this decision would impact her for the rest of her life. She fell even more in love with traveling and experiencing new cultures during her time doing missions work in Kingston, Jamaica and knew from that moment on that she wanted to help others have the same life changing experience that she had through studying abroad.

Upon graduating from Capital University with her degrees in Studio Art and Organizational Communication with minors in Religion and Cultural Studies she joined the Athena Study Abroad team to follow her passion of helping others experience new cultures and expand their worldviews with an organization she firmly believes in. As an Athena alumni Brittany knows and firmly believes in Athena's mission to provide students with affordable and authentic cultural experiences all while doing their part to give back.

"There are things you learn from experiences that you just can't learn from a textbook. Traveling gives one the opportunity to see the world for themselves and experience life in a way they may have never even knew existed before."

Tom Durigan

Student Advisor

Education: B.A. in Sociology & Spanish from Duquesne University
Study Abroad Location: Salamanca, Spain
Hometown: Cranston, Rhode Island

"Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does everything change, even the place we have called home for so long."

Complete Bio

TOM DURIGAN, Student Advisor

Tom Durigan grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, a large suburb of Providence the capital of the nations smallest state. Tom attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA where he completed a double major in both Sociology and Spanish. His love for the Spanish language can be attributed to his mom who has not only dedicated her life to teaching high school Spanish but also instilled the importance of travel and cultural acceptance by continually vacationing with the family throughout Latin America.

As a college student, Tom spent a week with his brother who was a member of the Peace Corps stationed in the Dominican Republic. While visiting he finally understood how vast the world was and how quickly you can become a welcomed member of a foreign culture. Once he arrived back in the states he finalized his semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain. Spending six months in Spain, living with an amazing host mother, Tom knew that studying abroad had changed him and solidified his love for travel and desire to explore every part of the globe.

Upon graduating Duquesne University with a B.A. in both Sociology & Spanish, Tom found him self working at private high school in Pawtucket, RI as both a member of the admissions team and as a Spanish teacher. His time spent working with eager students solidified his desire to work in education. After successfully establishing a student exchange with a high school in Barcelona, Tom knew that his passion was providing students with the opportunity to study abroad.

Adam Freed

Coordinator of Customized Programs and Student Relations

Education: B.A. in Global Studies and Intercultural Communication from Spring Arbor University
Study Abroad Location: Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
Hometown: Northwestern Pennsylvania

"Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone." -- Wendell Berry

Complete Bio

ADAM FREED, Coordinator of Customized Programs and Student Relations

Adam Freed is from northwestern Pennsylvania in a quaint little town of a few hundred people. He graduated from Spring Arbor University with a degree in Global Studies and Intercultural Communication in 2012. During his time as an undergrad, Adam spent three years working with international students as a leader with the International Student Union and spent two years as a diversity advocate with the university’s Office of Intercultural Relations. As a junior, Adam studied abroad in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. This experience drastically altered his career goals and set him on the path to working in the field of international education.

After graduation, he then went on to complete three years of AmeriCorps service in Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania before going back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. Adam is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute. Adam’s main focus is creating immersive experiences in study abroad to broaden students’ perspectives and give them a passion for learning about other cultures.

Denise Schneider

Customized Program Coordinator

Education: Degree in Tourism and Travel Management from the University of Applied Sciences in Worms, Germany
Study Abroad Locations: United States; Mexico; Italy; Spain
Home country: Germany

Complete Bio

DENISE SCHNEIDER, Customized Program Coordinator

After studying Tourism and Travel Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Worms, Germany, Denise became involved with providing customized programs in Europe. The experience she gained while doing an internship in a language school in Mexico and by working as a program coordinator in hotels in Italy and Spain helps her to organize programs that fulfill the expectations and needs of our customers.

In school, Denise, a German native, participated in a Germany-U.S. exchange program. Her biggest wish is that the students enjoy their programs, traveling and experiencing new cultures in Europe as much as she does. Denise is currently based in Germany.

Michael J. Bogdan

Esq., Legal Consultant

Education: B.A. History and Political Science from John Carroll University; Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law; M.A. Educational Policy from The Ohio State University
Hometown: Canton, Ohio

“It has been one of the great pleasures of my career to represent Athena Study Abroad since its inception.  The staff’s dedication to individual service and commitment to its student-clients is commendable."

Complete Bio

MICHAEL J. BOGDAN, Esq., Legal Consultant

Mike is an attorney with the Northeast Ohio-based firm of Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A. A graduate of Central Catholic High School in Canton, Ohio, he received his undergraduate degree in history and political science from John Carroll University graduating magna cum laude. Michael earned his Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. In addition, Mike also received a Masters Degree in Educational Policy from The Ohio State University with a focus on school law and higher education.

While in law school, Mike was a member of the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, and was a recipient of the 2003-2004 Editor’s Award for Significant Contributions to the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, as well as serving as Symposium Editor. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys golfing as well as spending time with his family. Mike and his wife Ann have four children.

“It has been one of the great pleasures of my career to represent Athena Study Abroad since its inception.  The staff’s dedication to individual service and commitment to its student-clients is commendable."
~ Michael Bogdan

Nicole Sauter

Student Relations Intern

Education: B.S. in Photo-Illustration with a minor in Marketing from Kent State University
Study Abroad Location: Paros Island, Greece
Hometown: Greensburg, Pennsylvania

"We can only truly understand other nations and peoples of this world by immersing ourselves in their culture. Study abroad brings students into these new worlds, breaks down the comfort zones and stereotypes, and guides them through experiences they could never imagine existed."

Complete Bio

NICOLE SAUTER, Student Relations Intern

Nicole grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA called Greensburg. It was there, through her high school, that she received her first dose of world travel. Her French class went on a 2 week trip to France and Italy to observe their different cultures and since then it was her goal to continue to make travel a major part of her life. Her parents were huge supporters of traveling abroad and encouraged her to continue seeking out the world and learning from it.

She then attended Kent State University and fulfilled her dream of studying abroad through Athena Abroad's Paros Island, Greece summer program. Her major was based in the College of Communication and Information so this enhanced her skills and desire for global communication.

She also took on the role of Service and Social Justice Officer for her college organization for a year and discovered how important service towards others was to her life. After graduating she looked for jobs and internships that had elements of her passions: creativity, learning, travel, service, communication, teamwork. She thought back to her incredible experience with Athena Abroad and, since they moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh, sent in her resumé for an internship which she will now fill this summer. She is very excited to work for a company who has equal passions for learning and educating people about the world, and also serving the world's people in need.

Overseas Advisors

OLWYN MANNIX, Advisor for Dublin, Ireland

Olwyn Mannix
Olwyn Mannix

Olwyn is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to information related to both Dublin and Ireland. Having run her own company, Over the Top Tours, for the past 17 years, she always has great recommendations for things to do in Dublin and places to go in Ireland.

She has an honours degree in History and Politics from University College Dublin (UCD) and a diploma in Law Studies from the Dublin Institute of Technology. Olwyn is married and has a daughter. She loves reading, travelling, sailing, culture, theatre, cinema and music.

BARRY TAGRIN, Program Director for Paros Island, Greece

Barry Tagrin
Barry Tagrin

Painter and Writer (Program Director): Masters Degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. His varied and substantial teaching career began with the establishment of the Greenwich Painters and Writers Workshop in San Francisco, and has included over the years faculty positions with Texas A and M University, the University of Texas at Austin, Rikkyo University in Japan and the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain.

He has exhibited his paintings worldwide, read and lectured internationally with the Fulbright Commission, and held classes and workshops in Poetry in venues as diverse as Japan, Malaysia, Czech Republic, Egypt and Mexico. His latest book of poems is entitled Collage of the Soul and is available now on Amazon.com

ANNALISA FORMICA, Advisor for Florence, Italy

Annalisa Formica
Annalisa Formica

Annalisa was born in Syracuse, Sicily and moved to Florence at the age of 18 to earn her Liberal Arts degree (thesis in History of Theater). Living and working in Florence has allowed her to have continuous access to international cultures through both work and leisure. Knowing people from all over the world and traveling as much as possible further developed her curiosity of other countries. She strongly believes that any kind of adjustment to different environments and cultures can be deeply enriching from both an academic and individual perspective. She enjoys working with students because it gives her the opportunity to help young people make the best of their study abroad experience, which will most likely end up being an unforgettable life experience.

BARBARA ULINI, Advisor for Rome, Italy

Barbara Ulini
Barbara Ulini

Barbara was born in and lives in Rome. She has a BA in Languages and Translation, with majors in English and Spanish.

She recently lived in New York City, and she feels this experience helps her relate with the students, who are experiencing a new culture just as she did.

"I'm drawn to working with young people and making their experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible."

MEI GONTRAN, Advisor for Tuscania, Italy

Barbara Ulini
Mei Gontran

I was born and raised in Paris, and I came to Tuscania nearly 30 years ago. Working at the school gives me the opportunity to share my Tuscanian life experience with students.

"My role as student advisor is very rewarding; students all get very close to the local people and to the town itself."

RHYS BEARDER, Advisor for London, England

Rhys Bearder

Rhys will be your main point of contact in London. Rhys is part of a team comprised of professionals at the University of Roehampton who have years of experience working in the field of international education.

Rhys and the team are also always prepared to give advice and tips about personal travel on the weekends, as well as making sure the student experience is as positive as possible.

KRISTIN HICKEY, Advisor for Barcelona, Spain

Kristin hails from Michigan but has been living in Barcelona for more than 5 years. She has extensive study abroad experience and has worked in the education sector for many years. She speaks Spanish fluently and has a high level of Catalan comprehension.

Kristin's interests include traveling, cooking (and eating!), being generally active and enjoying the city where she lives. She will be your 'go-to' person in Barcelona; you can count on her for anything during your stay in Barcelona.

GRACIA BOCANEGRA, Advisor for Madrid, Spain

Gracia was botn in Alicante, on the Mediterranean coast and now lives in Madrid where she studied International Communications at Saint Louis University Madrid Campus. She spent almost a year in Germany learning the language and working at a students' residence. Upon her return to Spain she worked for an Advertising school, as student assistant.

Gracia likes interacting with people from other countries, speaking and teaching - sometimes - languages, as well as dancing, specially Spanish flamenco sevillanas.

DR. ARTURO JARQUE, Advisor for Salamanca, Spain

Dr. Jarque was born in Alicante where he lived and studied until he moved to the USA. He has a Ph.D. in Contemporary Humanities and was a Fulbright researcher at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

Dr. Jarque's welcoming personality and knowledge of Spain make him a truly amazing resource for students. He was also a teacher for years and has had extensive experience in both the Spanish and American univeristy systems.

ANA MARIA MAYA, Advisor for Seville, Spain

Ana Maria is Spanish and has studied education and psychology. She has previously worked in Malta's Spanish Embassy and in human resources at Peace College in the US. Her hobbies include painting with watercolours, reading, yoga and going out.

She loves Spain because of its charm and her favourite sayings are "¡Haz el bién y no mires a quién!" ("Do good and don't look at others!") and "¡Vive el día de hoy como si fuera el último día de tu vida!" ("Live today as if it were the last day of your life!")

JENNIFER NORRIS, Advisor for Kyoto, Japan and Koh Samui Island, Thailand

Jennifer Norris

With a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of Indianapolis in Athens, and a Masters of Business Administration with a specialization in Technology Management and Communications National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Jennifer has helped to introduce and acclimate students to international settings while guiding their efforts to build their creative vision and portfolio development.

She has held workshops and conducted courses in Turkey, Greece, Japan, Taiwan and now Thailand. She also oversees the excursions and cultural modules in the Japan and Thailand programs that are so integral to HISA's creative and social immersion.

MICHAEL McCARTHY, Program Director for Paris, France

Athena Study Abroad - Paris France - Director Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy

Bitten by the travel bug, Michael spent his freshman year of college in Paris and hasn't stopped exploring since (with two more stays to study in Paris and one in Rome).

Michael taught many years in the U.S., before moving to Europe and teaching for four years in Italy, two years on Athena's Paros Island, Greece program and for the last six years in Paris. Michael has been exhibiting his photos and art work in galleries and museums in Europe and the U.S. for more than twenty years. Michael, who earned his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Photography from Temple University's Tyler School of Art, will be releasing a new book of photographs this Winter by Editions CDP in Paris.

Athena Involvement

Contact Us

Toll Free: 1-866-9-ABROAD (1-866-922-7623)
Fax: 614-416-6781

808 Penn Ave, #8, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, USA