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Featured Greek NewsFrom Corfu to Princeton: Dr. Maria Kaloudis Papadakis’ Dedication to Inclusive...

From Corfu to Princeton: Dr. Maria Kaloudis Papadakis’ Dedication to Inclusive Education

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By Constantina Soukas

Dr. Maria Kaloudis Papadakis, Princeton University’s new Associate Director for Project Planning and Administration, provides students with valuable opportunities that she has recognized as essential throughout her thirty-year academic journey in the United States.

An 18-year University employee, she now oversees the University’s summer programs, 800-1000 students from Princeton and other universities participating in various activities on campus, including internships, courses, jobs, and senior thesis research.

She believes we show up at work as whole people, and her journey influences her work at the University. “My Greek American identity influences how I show up in the world,” she reflects. “The values instilled in me through my upbringing—loving people, giving, and trusting first—are things I don’t take for granted. How I was raised bolstered my empathy and psychological resilience,” she says. “Relatedly, being an outsider—a feeling I have whether I am in the United States or Greece—has made me more understanding and compassionate, enhancing my ability to connect with others on a deeper level.”

Dr. Maria Kaloudis Papadakis with her parents, Christos and Spyridoula Kaloudis, at her brother’s wedding in Corfu, Greece.

Dr. Papadakis shared that the idea of home has been elusive to her since she was young. Born in New York City, she moved to Corfu at age seven and completed her primary and secondary education in Greece, where her parents were small business owners. She believes it is no accident that she ended up in a position where her mission is to create an environment where students feel at home for the summer.

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When Dr. Papadakis works with students, regardless of her position, she fosters a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, organizes events to help them connect and bond, and provides resources and support for their academic and personal needs. She ensures students can access various campus resources, such as the Writing Center and Career Development services, facilitating their educational and professional growth. Additionally, she emphasizes the importance of celebrating diversity and encourages students to share their backgrounds and experiences. Her doctoral dissertation focused on Ivy League first-generation students, reflecting her commitment to understanding and addressing their unique college needs.

Seeing her parents’ hard work in the family business and her father’s reverence for higher education motivated her to return and pursue studies in the United States. When preparing to leave for her academic pursuits, many close to her questioned why she would leave a “ready” or “στρωμένη” job. “When you set a goal, naysayers may appear. Real or perceived obstacles can arise, but we must critically filter information, double down on our goals, and stay focused,” she advised.

This advice has served Dr. Papadakis well. Upon returning to the US, she earned her BA at CUNY’s Hunter College while working in the admissions office, where she saw the opportunity to impact higher education through university administration. Shortly after, while newly married and expecting her first child, she set up and managed the office of a Nobel Laureate in Economics new to Columbia University’s Business School. She completed her MA in Higher Education Administration at Columbia University at night during that time.

“I love learning and reading,” said Dr. Papadakis. “In my twenty-five years working at American colleges and universities, including Ivy League institutions, I’ve witnessed their dedicated mission to advance knowledge, conduct impactful research, and uphold meaningful values. Fortunately, my passions and values align with my workplace’swww mission, making me eager to start each week. I hope my two daughters find work they love just as much.”

Dr. Maria Kaloudis Papadakis’ daughters, 11 years ago, the day before she began her doctorate. She spent the day at the pool, worried about its impact on them.

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, only 36 percent of Americans trust higher education institutions, marking an all-time low. Dr. Papadakis emphasizes that higher education offers more than advanced schooling and better job prospects. “Colleges provide an environment where ideas are honed and critical thinking flourishes. While this can occur outside academia, a structured setting facilitates the process. Education makes us better individuals, employees, and citizens. Ironically, those who assert that ‘education isn’t for everyone’ often ensure their children attend the best institutions, pursuing the highest levels of education possible.”

As much as she views education as transformative, she says the journey is marathon-like, especially for adult learners. As Dr. Papadakis’ family grew, so did her yearning for a terminal degree. She decided to return to school in her late 30s while managing various adult roles, including working full-time at Princeton and mothering her daughters Adriana and Lina, who were then 10 and 5 years old. She says she was lucky to be accepted to pursue her doctorate in Adult Learning and Leadership at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

When asked how she balanced working full-time at Princeton, being a mother, and pursuing her doctorate, Dr. Papadakis credits her support team, including her supervisors, dissertation advisor, husband, and friends. She also attributes her success to continuous learning and perseverance.

“I didn’t have a blueprint for being the Greek American woman I aspired to be in the twenty-first century. The demands of my professional and personal life required me to create my guide for balancing being a good mom, partner, family member, friend, and active community member while striving to excel as an employee and lifelong learner.”

Despite being in Greece, her parents’ support and love have continually strengthened her mission. “My dad and mom, now in their mid-70s and late 60s, still amaze me,” she said. With only an elementary school education, they remain dedicated business owners on Corfu Island, imparting motivation and wisdom to her and her brother. “Even after all these years at America’s Ivy League institutions, I have yet to meet their match in hard work and dedication to helping others.” They are her role models, and she visits them often, enjoying the Greek beaches and sun.

“I truly love my work, greatly influenced by Princeton University’s excellence and integrity. The supportive supervisors and nurturing atmosphere here have helped me achieve my goals. I aim to help others, especially students, reach their full potential.”

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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