As you may know, this month we celebrate and honor the many contributions of women as part of Women’s History month. The past several weeks, I have been invited to speak at different events and share my personal story. Despite the challenges I’ve faced, I never take for granted the privilege of leading a great university that educates so many outstanding students who – along with our faculty and staff – are making an impact in the world.
My journey has been difficult, but rewarding. Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to speak to a group of women that included
students at UC Davis, as part of the She Shares conversation series. I was asked what advice I would give to my 18 year-old self. My response was, “Do exactly the same,” and there is not a day that goes by that I think I would want to change anything.
Even as a young girl, I had an interest in science and math. There were no engineers on the small island of Salamis where I grew up and no one I knew had ever gone on to college. It was in middle school that my teachers first encouraged me to attend college because I always did very well in math and I enjoyed it. I was fortunate to have teachers who supported me and helped me. My family moved to Athens so I could attend an all-girls high school that prepared girls for science universities. All my high school classmates excelled in math and science, and so I never imagined that these were fields where women struggled.
I was excited to have the opportunity to go to college, driven by the dream that I could go on and do wonderful things that other people were doing. However, I later found that I was quite unprepared for what I would find in college.
When I got to the National Technical University of Athens, I was only one of two women in a program of 189. That first year was very difficult. It was a time of political unrest in Greece and I did not feel welcomed by my classmates. But I was determined to finish. And I did.
Sometimes I wonder where I found the motivation to go from where I was to where I am today. I grew up in poverty and I had aspirations of finding a way to live a better life. I believed strongly that pursuing higher education would be the way for me and, as I look back, I know I chose the right path. So my advice for young women is to believe you can do whatever you set out to do, even under the worst of circumstances, and believe you can do it as well — or better — than anyone else.