Two Middle Tennessee State University faculty members have been named recipients of top awards from Rutherford Cable, a professional leadership organization for women in Rutherford County.
Dr. Chandra Story, a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, received the 2023 ATHENA International Leadership Award, and Samantha Weir, an instructor in that department’s Human Development and Family Sciences Program, received the 2023 ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award.
The ATHENA Award recognizes an individual who excels professionally, gives back to the community and helps raise up other leaders — especially women. The Young Professional Leadership Award recognizes an emerging leader under age 40 who exemplifies the ATHENA attributes and serves as a role model for young women.
Story, one of 10 nominees, and Weir, one of eight nominees for the Young Professional award, received their accolades at the ATHENA International Leadership Awards ceremony May 12 at MTSU’s Student Union.
Story advocates for public health
The American Association for University Women nominated Story, who has spent her career focused on public health, especially for women and communities of color.
Locally, Story serves as board president for the Middle Tennessee Fund for Women and Girls, the charitable arm of the AAUW at MTSU. After a hiatus due to the pandemic, the organization resumed its hosting of the annual Equali-TEA in April to raise scholarship and programming funds for female students.
Story is also instrumental in public health statewide as a member of the Tennessee Health Disparity Task Force, formed to address the disproportionate number of marginalized communities who were most affected by the pandemic.
Black families had higher levels of comorbidity, mortality and complications in relation to COVID-19, Story said. This was due to a myriad of factors, which could include early misdiagnosis of COVID-19, chronic disease, and living conditions. Her own network of family and friends were affected, she said.
“Moving beyond the physical impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color, I, along with several colleagues, have funding through the Tennessee Department of Health to address the mental health fallout to COVID-19,” Story said. “It’s about building community capacity to address these emergent needs.”
In February, Story received the 2023 John Pleas Faculty Award at MTSU, which is presented annually to a Black faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and service.
On the national level, Story played a part in writing a policy statement for the American Association of Public Health that focused on inclusion of women of color.
“Women who live with HIV generally have higher rates of comorbidity, and women of color are disproportionately affected,” explained Story, who served as co-chair of the APHA Women’s Caucus policy subcommittee. “We wanted the APHA to endorse promoting more participation, specifically for women of color, when it comes to HIV research and recruiting women of color in HIV studies.”
Story also serves as chaplain for Kappa Tau Sigma chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Inc., and a licensed minister at First Baptist Church on East Castle Street in Murfreesboro.
Weir pushes for voter participation
Weir, a mother of three children under age 7, was spotlighted for her work with students and the community through the League of Women Voters of Murfreesboro/Rutherford County.
The LWV — a nonpartisan group that does not endorse any person or political party — encourages informed and active participation in government, voter education and advocacy for public policy.
“We have such a low voter participation, and being able to be a part of the League of Women Voters is hopefully changing that,” said Weir, who juggles family and her career as well as volunteering with LWV.
In a state where voter participation ranks among the worst nationally, getting the community involved in voting is imperative, she said.
“They (the LWV) do great work in the community as a whole, making it more accessible to vote and really empowering voters. I think it’s easy for people to feel disconnected and polarized from the system, so they say, ‘I’m not going to vote.’ Hopefully we’re making it more accessible.”
Weir said her involvement with the LWV complements her focus on her work and student engagement related to aging and families. Her students as well as fellow LWV members watch how legislation and policies affect families and the aging population.
“What I care about most is families — making better families and making stronger people. I’m working on doing that and changing this world for the better,” Weir said.
— Nancy DeGennaro (Nancy.DeGennaro@mtsu.edu)