With last year’s appointment of Chancellor Michael Amiridis, PhD, The University of Illinois at Chicago came full circle, embracing its Greek origins. Meet UIC’s Greek chancellor.
Call it fate, call it irony, but this is no Greek tragedy. Rather, it’s a triumph for a university, built on the site of a historic Greek neighborhood — and for the Greek community of Chicago. With Dr. Michael Amiridis at the helm, UIC is making great strides, and connecting with the Greek community like never before.
Meet Michael Amiridis
Born and raised in Kavala, Greece, Dr. Amiridis liked to experiment, and dream of new ways of doing things. This spirit led him to the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki, where he studied Chemical Engineering. After completing his degree in 1985, he had two options — go to graduate school or face un- or underemployment. True to his passions, he found another way: go to the U.S.
“There were and still are many opportunities here. I always thought that I’d go back, but 31 years later, I’m still here.”
Michael enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Nearby Chicago and its historic Greek community was a huge draw.
“I didn’t know where Wisconsin was, only that it was north of Chicago. Chicago is a world-class city. It was close to Wisconsin, and became our escape when we had some money in our pockets. We always ended up in Greektown.”
A year-and-a-half later, he married Ero Aggelopoulou-Amiridis. She then came to Madison to pursue her undergraduate studies. The couple stayed in Madison for six years. There, he earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering. Next stop: industry. The couple moved to Washington, DC, where Dr. Amiridis took a job working in corporate R&D. The corporate world was a stepping stone, a means of developing knowledge and experience. Michael had his sights on another role.
“I always loved academia. I enjoy research. I wanted corporate experience to teach and guide me. This would enhance not only my research, but any future work in academia. That experience has served me well.”
From Corporate America to Academia
After three years in the field, in 1994, he accepted a position at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Engineering. This university, incidentally, is led by another Greek, Dr. Harris Pastides. Over the years, he rose through the ranks, becoming department chair, then dean of engineering, and ultimately, provost and executive VP for academic affairs.
Academic positions gave him the freedom to pursue projects and research that he feels important. He said they allow him to contribute to the future, and reap other benefits.
“ I love the young spirit of universities. The students’ optimism, and their desire to change the world keeps me young.”
After 21 years in South Carolina, an “incredible” opportunity came up, that would bring him back to his original point of reference to the U.S. — Chicago.
UIC and Chicago: historic Greek roots
In early 2015, he became chancellor at UIC. This appointment is historic, and also ironic in some ways. Some might call it fate.
“Years ago they ‘kicked out Socrates’, and now there’s a Greek at the helm.”
Dr. Amiridis referred to an award-winning documentary produced in 1962 by Maria Moraites and Stewart Hagmann, called “Kali Nihta (Goodnight) Socrates”, which chronicles the destruction of Chicago’s original Greektown neighborhood, to clear the way for construction of the university.
He is the first Greek leader of the university, which occupies the site of the “Delta”, the enclave where many Greeks lived, worked, and raised families. The demolition of the neighborhood was a great source of bitterness for many Chicago families, but having a Greek at the helm changes everything. It allows the university the opportunity to strengthen its ties to the community, as well as honor it.
Laura Calamos Nasir, PhD, interim president of the National Hellenic Museum called Dr. Amiridis “a great friend,” and said that his leadership has opened the door to a stronger partnership and cooperation with the university.
“We look forward to even more connections between UIC and NHM. Dr. Amiridis and his wife Ero have done impressive work across their careers and here in Chicago. We are proud to have such great neighbors!”
He’s thrilled to be in Chicago. Along with Ero and their two children, they have settled in nicely.
“To be in Chicago, with all of its cultural opportunities is a great thing. Having such a strong Greek community here is an extra benefit. There are so many Greek institutions here. I’ve been embraced by the community. I’m truly humbled.”
Fostering UIC’s Greek Connections
Another way he honors the “Greek” part of UIC, is bringing together the university’s many Greek faculty members to get to know each other. He also meets regularly with Greek and Greek-American students.
“Over the years, there has been a large number of Greek graduates from UIC. I’ve had the privilege to meet some Greektown business owners, and many other successful business people who are UIC grads. So many Greeks in our community are contributing to society in countless positive ways, in the fields of medicine, dentistry, and others — and many are UIC graduates. It makes me very proud.”
Dr. Amiridis also noted that UIC’s soccer team boasts three recruits from Greece. He cites this as another sense of pride. He said he didn’t have anything to do with this, but did we mention fate?
Role of Chancellor
As chancellor, Dr. Amiridis is essentially the “CEO of the university”. He’s responsible for everything that happens at UIC — academic, research, hospitals, clinics, maintenance, and more.
“There is a hospital and 13 Mile Square clinics in UIC’s health care system. It’s a true urban-serving institution. UIC is also a research powerhouse. We’ve brought in $350 million each year in external research funding. We’re on par with top universities. In fact, UIC is the largest public research university in Chicago. We’re also in Athletics Division 1.”
Originally known as a “commuter school”, he said UIC has become a university students actively seek out, and come from all over the world to attend. Its student population is 29,100 and growing.
“Our students, our faculty, can attend anywhere, but they choose UIC. It’s my job to make sure UIC offers the finest education possible.”
Goals for UIC
The chancellor has four very specific priorities for UIC, and have made them his personal mission. These include creating the best student experience, and pursuing opportunities that ensure their success. He strives to increase the impact and visibility of research. Dr.Amiridis said he has also put emphasis on Chicago, to be sure the university is relevant, visible, and present. He also seeks to strengthen UIC’s ties to the city’s business community and cultural institutions. This dynamic leader envisions building a “more entrepreneurial university”, which he defines as running more like a business, making the best use of resources and opportunities, because he said the old model is no longer sustainable.
Michael Amiridis, PhD is passionate about UIC, Chicago and its Greek community. UIC’s campus started on “Greek” ground, and now with a Greek at the helm, this isn’t a Greek tragedy. It’s a success story.