Today Barnard President Debora L. Spar announced that Constance Hess Williams ’66, Barnard trustee from 1990 to 2000 and a former Pennsylvania State Senator, will endow the directorship of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. With this gift, Kathryn Kolbert, a renowned civil-rights attorney who has led the Athena Center since its launch in 2009, will become the Constance Hess Williams Director.

“We are enormously grateful for Connie’s commitment to the Athena Center as a resource for understanding and empowering women’s leadership,” said President Spar, who has made leadership studies one of her top priorities since arriving at Barnard in 2008.

“This is a huge step forward for the Athena Center, in terms of the breadth and reach of the programming and research we aspire to,” said Kolbert. “Connie’s support will expand our ability to help women in all phases of their lives, by providing the necessary tools and training for success.”

In its first two years, the Athena Center has launched several specialized programs to help women explore their leadership potential. More than 150 Barnard students are involved with the Athena Scholars Program, which combines academic, practical, and experiential opportunities for students with strong interest in leadership, through a specialized curriculum, workshops, and internships.  

To date, more than 1,000 students and women from around New York City have participated in professional development workshops offered by the Athena Leadership Lab. The Leadership Lab, launched in 2010, offers a range of professional development workshops to teach women practical leadership skills including negotiation, entrepreneurship, financial fluency, and management.

The Center was also behind the inaugural Athena Film Festival: A Celebration of Women and Leadership, which took place in February 2011, showcasing 25 features, documentaries, and shorts as well as 19 panels. Awards were presented to prominent women in film, including Arthur actress Greta Gerwig ’06, You’ve Got Mail writer Delia Ephron ’66, and producer Debra Martin-Chase.

Deeply committed to causes supporting women’s professional development and career success, Williams served as a Barnard trustee for more than a decade and currently sits on the Athena Center Board of Advisors. In 2005, she established the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Fund for Women in Politics, which has since become a key source of support for the Athena Center.

She was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1996. In 2001, she was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate, where she served until 2009. A fellow of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, she is chair of the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.