Credit: Nick Romanenko
Final exams can be stressful for anyone. For Ioannis “Yianni” Athanasopoulos, the stress of exams in the spring of 2004 was intensified by disturbing news – an MRI had uncovered a brain tumor requiring surgery.
His health concerns were compounded by the fact that his parents live thousands of miles away in Greece. Yet with everything on his mind, Athanasopoulos found the will to focus on the tasks ahead. “I was able to keep things together and complete my exams,” he said.
That same strength and perseverance have been evident throughout his time at Rutgers. Near the end of the fall semester of his junior year, Athanasopoulous underwent surgery to remove the benign tumor,
known as an acoustic neuroma. Although the operation left him with vision problems, facial paralysis and dizziness, Athanasopoulos decided against taking time off. “School kept me going and took my mind off health issues,” he said. “Sometimes I was really tired, but I just took it day by day.”
The youngest of four children, Athanasopoulos immigrated to the United States when he was 4, only to return to Greece six years later. His parents dreamt of all of their children attending college; Yianni, who returned to the United States when he was 17, will be the first. Even with his health woes, he has maintained a grade point average of 4.0 in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers-Newark.
Athanasopoulos never let his health problems stop him from excelling academically and making the most of his Rutgers experience. He founded the Rutgers-Newark chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the criminal justice honor society, and served as president of the Pre-Law Society. Other activities included tutoring at Newark’s 13th Avenue School and volunteering with a campus fundraising effort to help domestic abuse victims. He is graduating with a double major in criminal justice and sociology.
One of Athanasopoulos’ most rewarding experiences was serving as an intern in the criminal division of state Superior Court, where he was able to conduct a research project on the rate of recidivism among offenders released on bail. His research found a higher rate of recidivism than expected, and his work may have public policy and legal implications for the state’s bail system. “You can’t ask for anything more than to study theories in the classroom and then be able to apply them in real life,” he said. “You need both the practical and the theory to have a well-rounded education.”
Athanasopoulos plans to complete the master’s program at the School of Criminal Justice next year, and then apply to programs combining a law degree and a master’s in public administration. Eventually, he hopes to work as an ambassador, helping relations between the United States and Europe.
To his relief, his doctors have told him it is unlikely the tumor will return. He continues to see a physical therapist and hopes that with time his partial facial paralysis will recede. “I feel healthy, but a little exhausted from the past year. Now that school is finished for the summer, I plan on focusing toward my complete recovery.”