Irvine, Calif., June 28, 2023 — Kyriacos Athanasiou, University of California, Irvine Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering, has been named a “Great Immigrant” by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This year’s list, announced today, honors 35 naturalized citizens whose contributions and actions have enriched and strengthened American society and democracy.
Each Fourth of July since 2006, the philanthropic foundation established by Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie has invited Americans to celebrate the important role of naturalized citizens in American life. In addition to Athanasiou, the 2023 honorees include two Nobel laureates, an Olympian and a member of Congress, as well as best-selling novelist Min Jin Lee, seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette and Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan.
“The ‘Great Immigrant’ recognition by the Carnegie Corporation touches my soul more than any other award or honor because it rewards efforts since 1980, when I first moved to the U.S. as an immigrant from Cyprus,” said Athanasiou, who came to America to attend the New York Institute of Technology. He went on to earn a doctorate at Columbia University and joined UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering faculty in 2017.
“I arrived here with innate admiration of this country brought about by my father, a blue-collar man who did not even have one year of formal education,” said Athanasiou, who’s also the Henry Samueli Chair in Engineering. “He had never been to the U.S., but somehow, he was a deep admirer of this almost mythical place where one could succeed based on hard work and determination. True to his expectations, the U.S. turned out to indeed be the place where I, the son of a poor house painter, could reach the educational stratosphere and subsequently reach the pinnacle of science.”
His work has had enormous impact, addressing significant societal needs through the development of life-saving technologies. The senior academic researcher has spent his career inventing biomimetic tissues for use in treating damaged knees, jaws, hips, shoulders and other joints. Along the way, he has become a leading authority on the process of translating engineering innovations into commercially available medical instruments, devices and biologics.
Athanasiou is well known for making implants that help cartilage heal and repair itself. His scaffolds provided the first cartilage implant to treat joint defects and have also been employed as bone and dental fillers. His functional, tissue-engineered cartilage replacements can be put to use all over the body – from nose to spine, ears, knees, hips and shoulders.
The recipient of many accolades, including the 2023 Excellence Award of the Republic of Cyprus and the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, Athanasiou was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2020 and inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in 2014.
“I am a very proud American, and I am always grateful for the doors that this nation opened for me,” he said. “I am convinced that what I have been able to do in the U.S. would not have been possible in any other country in the world.”
The 2023 cohort of “Great Immigrants” comprises citizens from 33 nations and a wide range of backgrounds and fields. The honorees will be recognized with a full-page public service announcement in The New York Times on July 4, as well as through tributes on social media. Since 2006, the Carnegie Corporation has named more than 700 “Great Immigrants,” forming one of the largest online databases of its type.
About UCI’s Brilliant Future campaign: Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The Henry Samueli School of Engineering plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/the-henry-samueli-school-of-engineering.
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