Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Dr Vicky Giouroukakis Is Helping To Change Our World

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Don’t be intimidated by anything or anyone; be fearless and confident always. I learned this later in life and wished I had learned it sooner. When I was younger, I was shy and sometimes shied away from jobs, friendships, and social situations that I perceived to be out of my reach. I eventually learned to push away my fears and pursue new opportunities and situations.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Vicky Giouroukakis.

Vicky Giouroukakis, Ph.D., is a widely recognized expert in the field of education and research. She is a Professor in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy University in New York and a former high school English teacher. Vicky has published books, chapters, and articles on best teaching methods. Her latest publication (2023), Growing Up in an Immigrant Household and Community: Essays by Descendants of Immigrants, is an anthology of essays published by Kendall Hunt.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Astoria, NY, to working-class Greek immigrant parents who came to this country for a better life. I barely saw my dad as he worked long hours at the pizzeria. My mom worked at the Bulova Watch factory, assembling watches. We didn’t have much, but we had enough and were happy. We lived in a tiny apartment in a five-story, diverse community. I loved the fact that the Greek and Italian shop owners knew me by my first name, that our neighbors were our family, that my brothers and I could play carefree on the streets with other kids, that we spoke two languages, and that my house smelled of homecooked Greek meals.

Even though my parents embraced the U.S., they missed their relatives and homeland, so we moved to Greece after I finished second grade. I spent my formative years in Athens, Greece, where I attended a local public school. We moved back to the States when I was a teenager in middle school. Going to different schools did not deter me from doing well and getting good grades. I was an overachiever and loved learning, so academics were my strong suit. However, adjusting to new environments socially and trying to find my identity while straddling two worlds, the culture of my parents and the American culture, was challenging. I learned to overcome obstacles and strive to achieve my goals through hard work, grit, and perseverance, lessons my parents taught me through their modeling and guidance.

When you were younger, was there a book you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I read The Alchemist in my early twenties, which changed my life. I have always been hard-working, goal-oriented, and eager to accomplish things that would bring me fulfillment, whether it’s a career, a family, or a new book. The book taught me to be mindful of the process and enjoy the journey, which can also be fulfilling.

It also reminded me that fear drives everything, that without fear, people’s lives would be different, and the world would be different. I learned to tune out people and follow my own path no matter how scary. I am a first-generation college graduate who was persistent about achieving the highest degree in my field. I spent ten years after high school pursuing degrees for a career in Education, which is not the most popular, glamorous, or lucrative, but that brings me joy. In addition, when my first book proposal got rejected, I did not give up trying to get it published. The book eventually found a home at Corwin Press, becoming a company best seller. In my personal life, I feel that I did not settle, despite typical pressures from my family to marry at a younger age.

To this day, I try to put myself in uncomfortable situations or take on new and challenging roles or tasks. The point is to practice being “unafraid.” I find that any success that comes from these types of circumstances is sweeter than if it came from easier ones. For example, writing literary nonfiction for publication was a new venture for me, but I was set on making it happen. I love getting an idea and seeing it materialize, even if it means pushing the boundaries. In my world, anything is possible.

I gave the book to my three children and others so they can enjoy and learn from the lessons.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was a college student at NYU, I got a job in the Psychology department doing research. Psychology was my other major, in addition to English and American Literature. At some point, I was being considered for the position of assistant to a prominent professor, Jerome Bruner. I remember being star-struck, and even then, I probably didn’t know how important he was in the fields of psychology and education. His wife and another staff member took me to his apartment and gave me a tour. They showed me his calendar and told me all the clerical stuff I would need to do for him. I remember seeing his handwriting and thinking, “Oh, my! There is no way I can read his handwriting and be his secretary. I was pale with fear.” Eventually, I didn’t get the job, but I wish I had been bolder and less afraid to take on the challenge.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I aim to shed light on the experiences of immigrants who form the fabric of our society but also their children and grandchildren who continue weaving that rich fabric. Immigrants and their descendants enrich our communities and make our country unique and special. Their stories can help build understanding and empathy for the immigrant experience.

By sharing their stories, I hope to advocate for immigration and multiculturalism to be celebrated, championed, and supported by our society. In addition, I hope the stories will resonate with immigrant families and young people who feel out of place, like “the other,” or in the middle of two cultures and want to fit in somewhere despite how different they or their parents are.

Can you share the most interesting story you shared in your book?

All the stories are interesting because they are genuine and written from the heart. Thirty people from all walks of life and from different cultural backgrounds and experiences wrote essays for this book. Some of these folks are published; three are secondary school students; for others, this is the first attempt at writing a piece for publication. My two sons also wrote essays about their grandfathers, which gave me insights into how they perceived their grandparents and which made me extremely proud.

One of my favorites essays that I wrote for the book is about my mom, who was a wonderful cook and whose preoccupation with food and eating had to do with her desire to take care of her family and loved ones in the one way that she knew best, by cooking for and feeding us. This was her way of controlling her life and her situation. My mother had no education, literacy, hobbies, or financial means. And while she lacked proficiency in the English language, she could communicate using the silent message of food. Food was the medium through which she conveyed her love toward people, her family, and the whole world.

Another favorite story is one written by the mother of a former student of mine, and it is about the lengths at which her strict immigrant Italian parents went to “discipline” or control her rebellious behavior when she was a teenager, perhaps thinking that it was the best or only method that would work. Despite the traumatic experience and its negative effects on her life, the essayist writes about how she, now a parent of two daughters, came to forgive her parents and even understand the motives behind their choices.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Two events made me decide to write this book. One is the passing of my mother, Dina, who experienced joy and hardship in her life. Dina grew up poor and without a father in a small rural village in post-WWII Greece. Regarding education, she could only finish elementary school because she had to work to support her family. In America, she worked hard her entire life so that her children could get an education, have more opportunities, and have a better life than she did. Dina was also an extremely strong, empathetic, caring woman and a wonderful cook who used food and cooking to show her love toward people. Eventually, my mother was struck with cancer. Her passing made me consider how to honor her and my father, the hardest working man I know, and other immigrants. These regular folks weren’t necessarily newsworthy and accomplished in the mainstream media way, but they were heroes in my eyes as they sacrificed a great deal for their children. I also wanted to recognize my generation and the subsequent ones, the struggles some of us endured trying to navigate and align our cultural worlds, the joys we experienced, and the lessons we learned from our parents and grandparents.

The second event was my impending 50th birthday which made me reflect on my childhood, my parents, and my life but also think about my own mortality and what else I want to accomplish in the future. Writing a literary nonfiction book that honors my parents and my generation was a goal I set for myself.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Every person who wrote an essay for the book was impacted by the call to contribute. How do I know this? They told me at different times throughout the writing and publication process — when they were writing their essay, after they submitted it, and once the book was published — how grateful they were for being given a chance to reflect on the past, which they found emotionally fulfilling and, indeed, cathartic. They enjoyed reminiscing about the past and being reminded of the lessons their experiences taught them. The essayists were also proud to be featured in a book. In creating this book, I was able to create a community of people who came together to tell their stories, a family united by our common experiences.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

In our society, immigration is often looked upon as either an asset or a liability. I would like to think that we can work towards thinking about immigration not only as an asset that enriches our world but more so as a necessity without which our world would not be as strong, beautiful, dynamic, and so forth as it is or can be. One way to do this is by changing people’s attitudes toward immigration. To this end, we can try to facilitate the publication and sharing of stories about immigration so that people can understand, empathize with, learn from, and appreciate immigrants, their cultural diversity, struggles, and goals.

Another way is to identify, understand, and address the needs of 1st and 2nd generation children in schools. As an education professor at Molloy University, my colleagues and I strive to train teacher candidates to help diverse students succeed in school and beyond. We already have wonderful teachers in schools all over the U.S. who do a great job nurturing the development of our students, and we need to continue to prepare our educators to be effective leaders and mentors. We need to help fund teachers’ education and facilitate their credentialing to get our teachers out there doing their job. We also need to give resources to schools and help support English as a New Language and bilingual programs and other services that will help students thrive.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is empowering others to reach their potential. For me, it is important to make people believe in themselves and what they can accomplish to help them see what they cannot see in themselves. Leaders who have been my mentors have done the same for me.

People in my life have often expressed that they are grateful that I have supported and encouraged them in their endeavors and careers. They have also thanked me for inviting them to collaborate in teaching and scholarship (i.e., writing, publishing, research, and presentations), joining a committee, or working on a project together. In collaboration, we build a community that will yield more collaborations and more communities. For example, a former colleague, a university professor, commented on one of my posts on social media, “Your support and engagement with me led to projects I never dreamed I would reach for. You are a blessing.” I am really flattered and heartened by this comment, especially because, at the time, I didn’t even realize I was impacting someone.

As the president and co-president of two organizations (a local school charity and school board for a Greek language school) that I have been volunteering for the last several years, my goal has been to build relationships with people who believe in the mission of the organization and work together to achieve it. I cannot fathom doing the work that I do without the collaboration of people who have their own unique contributions to offer. It is this ideology that I plan to use when I assume the role of Director of Graduate and Postgraduate Programs at my university this June, where I will be managing multiple Education programs and faculty.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t be intimidated by anything or anyone; be fearless and confident always. I learned this later in life and wished I had learned it sooner. When I was younger, I was shy and sometimes shied away from jobs, friendships, and social situations that I perceived to be out of my reach. I eventually learned to push away my fears and pursue new opportunities and situations.

2. Stop and smell the roses. I was always driven, determined, and focused on the result and outcome. I wish someone had told me to also enjoy the journey.

3. What seems important now will not be important in the future. I used to sweat the small stuff and worry about the future a lot — will I find a faculty position, be a good teacher, be a good writer, and ever write a mainstream book? Will I be able to help others? Will I have a social impact? Will I be happy and fulfilled in my personal life? I wish someone had told me not to worry so much.

4. Don’t torture yourself trying to fit in. I spent a big part of my life trying to figure out my cultural identity and fit into one world. It took me a long time to realize that I am Greek American and belong to two worlds. Instead of agonizing over the choice between two cultures, resisting and even resenting the language of one or the other, I am comfortable with both.

5. In terms of writing, everyone has a story to tell. Tell yours! I used to think that getting published was reserved only for renowned authors, not regular folks like me. Also, I used to cling to text that I thought was good and important, and if I rewrote it, it wouldn’t be as good. I learned that revision is my best friend, which is now my favorite part of the writing process. I liken it to sculpting and modeling a piece of clay until you deem it to be done. You can mold your piece of writing forever, but at some point, you need to be done with it. Then, try to get it published. What is the worst that can happen?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have to share two quotes that I like:

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”

I try to push away my fears and follow my dreams, though it has not always been easy because fear can be a strong force in life. It is a mantra that has led me to pursue multiple goals in my life.

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

I am constantly amazed at the humanity and kindness of people. The collaboration and support of other people are what enable me to try to make a difference in the world.

Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private meeting with Evy Poumpouras, a woman I admire tremendously. She is a successful daughter of immigrant parents and a celebrity living the American Dream! Despite her demanding schedule and many commitments, she agreed to write an endorsement supporting the book. Evy inspires me because she is strong, fearless, accomplished, and an exceptional role model who motivates us through her books, speeches, TV appearances, and social media posts. I would love to talk to her about her work and life s she can motivate me even more.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me at and on social media:





This was very meaningful; thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Dr Vicky Giouroukakis Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.