President & Founder
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
Vice President of Development & Creative Director
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
Director of Academic Relations
A native of California, Bill grew up on the beach in Santa Barbara, where he also attended Westmont College. It was in his senior year there that he went on a 10-country semester abroad program in Europe, and his life was changed. Since then, Bill’s involvement in international education has led him to work, teach and travel to 27 countries.
Bill completed his M.A. in Historical Theology at Wheaton College (IL), and did two years of doctoral work in Early Modern European History at UC-Santa Barbara. He currently teaches history at Phoenix Seminary, Grand Canyon University, and Saints Bible Institute in San Lorenzo, Italy, where he has been on the faculty since 2002.
Bill has also served stateside in the field of study abroad, serving as Executive Director for one study abroad provider organization, Senior National Consultant for another, and as an independent consultant to college campuses. It’s this experience in the field that has made Bill so pleased to have joined the Athena team.
Bill is married to his lovely wife Karen, and has two children, Camille and Evelyn. They all live in Mesa, AZ, where Bill anchors Athena’s Southwest office.
“Studying abroad is like fine dining … where it’s not about how many burgers you sell. It’s about the quality of the offering on the plate, and excellent, friendly service. At Athena, we’re all about the product: great academics, the most thoughtful cultural immersion experiences, and rich partner relationships. Study abroad at its best, for all the right reasons … that’s why I’m so excited to be with Athena.”
Director of Campus Relations
Kerry was born in Chicago, and raised in Connecticut and eastern Pennsylvania. Annual family vacations started his love of travel, but it was college that took him internationally. Kerry studied Music at Kalamazoo College where he studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany, living with a host family and learning about his own cultural heritage.
Kalamazoo also ignited his interest in working with students. That interest took him to the Interlochen Arts Academy as a resident advisor and admissions counselor which then led him to Bowling Green State University where he completed graduate work in College Student Personnel. An externship as a foreign student advisor at the University of Findlay introduced him to a career in international education.
Kerry began his professional career working with international students at Oklahoma State University, at the University of Tulsa, and finally at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he also became involved with student recruitment in the Pacific Rim. Those positions were followed by leadership roles with other major study abroad providers. Kerry's responsibilities included management of enrollment and sales teams as well as institutional relations. Between personal and professional travel, Kerry has visited approximately 40 countries.
A longtime member of NAFSA and the Forum, Kerry has held many NAFSA member-leader roles, including regional chair, member of the planning committees for three annual conferences (including chair of the 2002 San Antonio conference), and chair of both the former Nominations & Elections Committee and the Education Abroad Knowledge Community. He is currently chair and lead trainer for the highly regarded NAFSA Management Development Program. Kerry's community involvement is centered on his faith community where he now serves as Board President. And when he's in town he likes to assist with his congregation's monthly intercity community supper program.
Kerry and his wife, Karen, live in Huntington, Connecticut, and have three grown children who studied abroad during their college careers. For Kerry, Athena represents an exciting opportunity to encourage the meaningful study abroad experience that has drawn many of us into the profession.
Brooke Putsch is from Tiffin, a small town in northwest Ohio. Brooke's passion for study abroad started when she began studying Spanish in high school and she wanted to improve her Spanish skills. Her Spanish teacher, Joe Moore, encouraged her to study abroad in Costa Rica.
She decided to go on a study abroad program to Santa Cruz, Costa Rica, and fell in love with traveling and learning about different cultures. She then attended The Ohio State University and majored in Spanish with a minor in International Studies. As part of her degree program, Brooke chose to study abroad in Granada, Spain to further improve her language skills. While there, she lived with a wonderful host family that showed her aspects of Spanish life that a tourist would never get to experience. While on exchange, Brooke traveled throughout Spain, England, Italy, and Morocco.
The trip to Morocco was like a study abroad within a study abroad. Even though her trip only lasted a week, Brooke's travels included visiting the Medina in Fez, taking a circuitous route through the Atlas mountains to the southeast of Morocco, camping in traditional tents in the Sahara desert, waking up before dawn & hiking out into the desert to watch the sun rise over the sand dunes, stopping to have tea in the tent of a nomadic Berber family, riding camels through the desert to a nearby town, dancing to traditional music, feeding monkeys that came down from the trees during a bus stop, and tasting many delicious new foods.
After graduating from OSU, Brooke has spent several years volunteering with high school study abroad students, which has solidified her love for study abroad. Brooke is passionate about helping Athena's students to have the same kind of life-changing experience that she had while abroad.
Brooke wants to learn as many languages as she can, and after learning Spanish she has started studying Arabic & is enjoying the challenge of learning a language that is so different from any other that she knows.
Brooke's interests include cooking, learning languages, travelling, and flying in small aircraft with her husband, a flight instructor. Brooke & her husband Ethan live in Delaware, Ohio.
"It's hard to describe how you feel & what you learn while studying abroad – certainly it is amazing and wonderful and a trip of a lifetime. But what's harder to describe is how much you will grow and learn. I went on my first study abroad program to improve my Spanish skills and have fun; but my exchange changed my whole perspective on life, culture, and people – one of the things I love most is that by experiencing other cultures, you lose the 'us' and 'them' perspective, and gain the perspective that we are all just people and we're all in this together."
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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."
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."
Talah grew up all over the world, but mainly in northwest London. She studied Neuroscience and Psychology at University.
Talah, fluent in English and Arabic, studied abroad in Iraq and Jordan.
She is a music lover, and has a very wide range of musical taste, ranging from Tchaikovsky to Beyoncé. Her favorite historical site in London is Hampton Court, and she is a big fan of Liverpool FC!
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!")
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.
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.