SALT LAKE CITY — For the better part of 25 years, Deneece Huftalin has been a trailblazer in the business community and a strong advocate in the field of higher education.
When she began her career at Salt Lake Community College, she said was buoyed by people who saw her potential and gave her opportunities to become successful — pushing her to take on roles she may not have thought she was capable of at the time.
"They saw that I was capable, they saw strength and they saw characteristics I perhaps wasn't really seeing," Huftalin said. "They put me in situations where I could excel and gave me lots of support."
She said that encouragement helped her find paths to professional achievement and eventual success as an institutional leader of exceptionally high regard. And it was that trajectory that helped put her in a position to be named this year's ATHENA Leadership Award recipient by the state's largest business commerce organization.
Huftalin was selected as the 2017 honoree for the Salt Lake Chamber program, which "seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives." She said she was humbled and honored to be recognized. The award was presented Wednesday during a luncheon at the Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
"What I hope it says to other women is that there are places at the table for women to pursue careers in a variety of different businesses and organizations to lead authentically," she said.
Attributing much of her career attainment to being put into positions where she was "allowed to thrive," Huftalin said her success could not have happened without help from people who believed in her leadership abilities.
Huftalin was named the eighth president of Salt Lake Community College in September 2014. Previously, she served as the school's interim president, vice president of Student Services, dean of students as well as director of Academic and Career Advising. During her tenure as president, Huftalin has led efforts to bolster completion rates, workforce responsiveness and equity in student access.
Speaking of people that she admired and has tried to emulate in some ways during her career, Huftalin mentioned former first lady Michelle Obama, whom she described as a "phenomenal woman" and role model.
"She's got it all. She's courageous, loving, kind and a great mother and partner," Huftalin explained.
While she is proud of her career accomplishments, Huftalin said not everyone has to be a Ph.D. or become a college president to be a role model. For those young women who are striving to become successful, there are many paths to be taken, but education is a key component, she said.
"Credentials matter. If you've got a technical skill, you need that credential to show that you have (those skills)," she said. "That's all you need if that's the field you love, that you're pursuing it and you're passionate about it."
Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie described Huftalin as "a collaborator, a leader, and she inspires everyone around her."
"She is one of those rare individuals who go beyond the call of duty," he said. "What she has done with Salt Lake Community College has been phenomenal. She’s not only helping create the workforce of today, but she’s helping shape the workforce of tomorrow.”
He also noted that Huftalin provides a prime example of the many great, often unsung women who are doing so much throughout Utah in the business and education communities. He added that women in leadership positions provide important diversity in various fields and their presence offers female professionals a vision of what is possible for their future.
"It shows other women in the workplace and young women just (getting into) the workplace the potential of the great successes they can have," Beattie said.
In addition to the ATHENA Award, six other women were recognized with the Pathfinder Award, given to community leaders who “create new paths” and promote the development and recognition of women in business.
The Pathfinder recipients included Amanda Covington; senior vice president for communications and government relations at Vista Outdoor; Mary Crafts-Homer, CEO/owner of Culinary Crafts; Lavanya Mahate, owner of Saffron Valley East India Cafe; Heidi Prokop, senior vice president and communications manager at Zions Bank; Maureen Riley, retired executive director at Salt Lake City International Airport; and Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding.