BA, The College of New Jersey; MS and PhD, New Jersey Institute of Technology
“I remember how discouraged I felt, feeling lost and like a fish in the middle of the ocean. I am very empathetic to first-generation students and when I ask them how they are doing, I really mean to ask them how they are doing.”
At age 19, Eliana Antoniou came to the U.S. from Greece as an international student to pursue her goal of becoming a mathematician. While she believed in the American dream and the opportunities available to hard-working students, the American way of life was very different from her village in Cyprus.
“It was a rough transition and on the third day I was ready to leave and go back home, but one of the faculty reached out and said, ‘You cannot run away. You will be successful, and things will work; be patient,’” Antoniou recalls. “If it wasn’t for this faculty member, Dorothy Minkoff, who met me the first day that I went to take a placement test in the library, I never would have stayed.”
Minkoff then introduced her to another Greek American individual, who picked her up on an early Sunday morning to take her to the local Greek Orthodox church. “It takes one person to make a difference in your life. That is why I go out of my way to help students.”
A math professor at William Paterson for more than 20 years, Antoniou is also the University’s coordinator for the GS-LSAMP (Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) Program, a National Science Foundation-funded program that provides academic support and specialized advising for students from historically underrepresented groups who wish to enter non-medical STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions.
“Seeing so many first-generation students at WP brings back memories from my own experiences and I am excited to engage with them, and help them out to adjust, as I remember how isolating it was. I remember how discouraged I felt, feeling lost and like a fish in the middle of the ocean. I am very empathetic to first-generation students and when I ask them how they are doing, I really mean to ask them how they are doing,” she says.
Antoniou advises her first-gen students to advocate for themselves, look for opportunities, and fully pursue them. “There is an abundance of opportunities available to students at WP. Become a tutor, get involved with student government or student activities, participate in programs based on your major, attend lectures, gain internships, go to career services. Meet people. Do not be intimidated because you are a first-generation student. Be proud and make your family proud. If you made it to WP, it means you can succeed and graduate.”
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