Our team is led by Stacy McKay Benander, a former university Study Abroad Director who founded Athena Study Abroad to directly serve the needs that she observed first-hand during her years of work in higher education.  

While working at universities and seeing many of the same types of large, impersonal, American-centric study abroad programs offered to students, Stacy searched for something better and more authentic for her university students.  Back in her own college days, Stacy, like her students, had been a small town girl looking for this type of program, and had experienced great difficulty finding a program that married small, quality, reputability, and immersion. Over a seemingly innocent California Pizza Kitchen date-night dinner with her husband in 2005, the lightbulb went off – if you can’t find these types of programs, why not build them yourself?  And with that, Athena was born!

Athena's Founder & President, Stacy, during her time studying abroad in Spain


Athena officially started in 2005 in Stacy and John’s house in Columbus, Ohio.  Over the years through the hallowed halls of Athena, we have welcomed Stacy’s brother Matt (as Athena’s first employee!), Stacy’s husband John who is an integral part of Athena’s leadership and founding, as well as various friends and long-time international education colleagues as team members in building this organization.  

Make no mistake – Athena is a labor of love not just to Stacy and John, but to so many of our personal and professional networks and support systems.  Because so many people believe in what we do, and how what we do is so different, we have been able to stay true to who we are since Athena’s first day.

Matt, Stacy, & John in the early years of Athena exploring Ireland


By combining the program quality and institutional immersion of direct exchanges, and the personalized services of program providers, we truly believe that Athena is the best of both worlds.  Additionally, at the heart of everything we do is a sincere focus on our charitable mission, striving through all of our endeavors to make the world a better place.  Athena operates with 7 Guiding Principles as the foundation of all that we do:

  1. Foster Tolerance and Understanding Among Cultures Through Experiential Learning.
  2. ‘Big World. Made Smaller.’
  3. Serve Our Students As We Would Want to be Treated.
  4. Be the Partner We Want to Have.
  5. Provide a Home Away From Home For Our Students.
  6. Give Back to the World.
  7. Change the World.


Athena was created to work with and help universities achieve their goals across the spectrum of study abroad – from customized programming to short term offerings to semester and year long personalized immersive programs – we have worked diligently to answer the needs of our partners. Our highly-experienced US team (as well as our overseas team) support and guide our partners through all the stages of the process.  We know that each university has unique needs and we aim to determine which Athena programs are the best fit for each institution’s student body. In addition to offering quality programs, we recognize that adapting to a new country can be challenging and therefore strive to foster independence while providing unparalleled and personalized services to each and every one of our students.  

Stacy and Matt at NAFSA when Athena was first starting out


In 2017, Athena relocated its headquarters to Stacy’s hometown of Greenville, Pennsylvania.  It was always important to Stacy and John to find a way to pay it forward to small towns like Greenville and invest in our country’s entrepreneurial future.  With the trend of so many organizations moving to large cities, Athena is committed to building up small town America and inspiring the new business future of entrepreneurship.  We are now officially part of Main Street USA (with our office on Main Street!) and are committed to giving back to our community for decades to come.

Athena on Main Street U.S.A.

Athena Study Abroad • Big World. Made Smaller. © Copyright 2005 - 2020