Melissa Pappas (’85), founder and CEO of ATHENA Consulting, gave the inaugural Colorado State University Leadership in Social Work Speaker Series keynote presentation on March 31. Melissa’s presentation, sponsored by CSU’s School of Social Work, was the final event during the 2022 Social Work Month.
During her talk, Pappas shared her educational and professional history with CSU students, alumni, and faculty members from the School of Social Work. Highlights of Pappas’s presentation include:
- Her first-generation student experience at CSU
- The benefits of informational interviewing to shape career goals
- How she grew her company from a basement startup to a staffing company with more than 1,400 employees
- How her social work education and roots remain at the forefront of her business
- How and why a social work background is an asset in the business world
Pappas’ virtual keynote
About Melissa Pappas
Pappas grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago. Neither of her parents had a college degree, and fewer than half of her high school classmates went on to college. CSU was the only school she applied to, and she was thrilled to get in. When Pappas arrived at CSU in 1981, she was a first-generation student and one of only a few out-of-state students in her residence hall floor.
During her time at CSU, Melissa developed an interest in public welfare policies that impact vulnerable families and communities. After graduating from CSU, Melissa went on to the University of Chicago where she earned her MSW.
In 2002, Pappas launched ATHENA Consulting, a staffing agency that specializes in health, human services, and behavioral health. Today her company has more than 1,400 employees working in state and local government welfare and health agencies across 25 states in roles that support individuals and families through programs including the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, social services, child support enforcement, workforce development, mental health and addiction counseling, and more.
Prior to starting ATHENA, Pappas had a distinguished career working with state welfare programs to help improve service delivery, enhance customer service, and increase accuracy. She spent nine years as a senior executive for government operations at MAXIMUS, a consulting company that worked with state and local government human service programs. Previously, she worked with state cabinet secretaries of human services, advocating on national welfare policy for the American Public Welfare Association in Washington, D.C. Today, her company, ATHENA Consulting, provides long-term professionals to state government agencies to work with the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
Pappas gives back to her alma mater through her time, talent, treasure, and testimony. As a member of the CSU College of Health and Human Sciences Executive Leadership Council, she assists the dean in the implementation of short- and long-term goals, community outreach, partnership development, and garnering financial support for strategic initiatives.
In 2017, Pappas established the James and Katherine Pappas Scholarship in Social Work for first-generation CSU social work students. The scholarship is in honor of her parents who valued hard work and instilled in Pappas the belief that education can open doors and transform lives.
Pappas is the proud mother of three sons – two of whom are recent CSU graduates. In her free time, she enjoys CrossFit, reading, skiing, hiking, and traveling.
About the School of Social Work
Since the first baccalaureate social work major was offered in 1968, CSU’s School of Social Work has made a continuous effort to develop and maintain a program that is responsive to the standards of the social work profession, to the needs of human services agencies and clients in the state, and to the land-grant mission and goals of CSU. The school’s mission is to provide exemplary education, applied research, and transformative outreach to advance social, environmental, and economic justice; promote equity and equality; alleviate oppression; and enhance human health and well-being across local and global community systems.
The Leadership in Social Work Speaker Series was launched in 2022 to learn from talented social work alumni. The goal is to invite CSU alumni and supporters who are leaders in the field of social work to share their professional journeys, career pathway options for social workers, and how a degree in social work can be used in practice. The Leadership in Social Work Speaker Series is offered by the Center for Lifelong Learning, Outreach, and Education. Director of CLOE, Paula Yuma, welcomes recommendations for future topics and speakers.
The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.