Syracuse University Magazine

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George Athanas

Enhancing Student Experiences

When George Athanas began working at the University nearly a decade ago, he was happy to discover the Hendricks Chapel Quilters, a group of students, faculty, staff, and community members who meet weekly to create quilts for donation to area family service organizations. As he learned to quilt, he found the perfect outlet for three things he cares deeply about: the creative arts, community collaboration, and giving back. Quilting also serves as a fitting metaphor for his role as an assistant director in the Office of Residence Life (ORL), where he enjoys bringing people together in ways that showcase and multiply their strengths. “In quilting, there are three layers that you stitch together to make them stronger,” says Athanas, whose responsibilities include supervising residence hall staff, overseeing the first-year residential experience, and coordinating various collaborative projects across campus. “It’s the piecing together of different parts to make something new. And when they are joined, they are better, more beautiful, and more valuable.”

His enthusiasm for the field of student affairs grew from his time as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, when he was struggling to choose a major and find his place within the institution. “I had developed a relationship with my RA, who advised me to go through the course catalog and circle every class I would take if I could take anything I wanted,” says Athanas, who unearthed a penchant for community development through the exercise.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in community social psychology from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, and then circled the globe as a staff member for Semester at Sea. “I got to travel on a floating university around the world,” says Athanas, who’s passionate about travel. “That was an amazing experience—working with students, but also seeing parts of the world I never would have seen.”

Athanas then took a position at Michigan State University, where he worked for nearly 10 years in various residence life positions before joining the ORL team in 2006. Collaboration is the common thread weaving through his efforts at SU, whether he’s joining with colleagues to train resident advisors, partnering with the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service to create a cross-divisional position for a graduate assistant for civic engagement, or linking up with a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., to annually provide 44 Syracuse students with a service experience working with hungry and homeless people there during Spring Break. “I enjoy the opportunity to be creative and innovative, and to work in partnership with others to make new and different things happen so students have amazing collegiate experiences that complement their academics,” says Athanas, who received a 2013 Inspiration Award from the Shaw Center in recognition of his dedication to community engagement experiences for students. “Not everybody gets to say they are able to create space for students to transform, so to be a part of that is really rewarding.” —Amy Speach

Photo by Susan Kahn