New Faculty Spotlight – Georgios (George) Eleftherakis
Title: Associate Professor of Computer Science
George Eleftherakis joined Penn State Brandywine’s computer science department as an associate professor and program coordinator in August. He received his Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Ioannina in Greece and his Master of Science and doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Eleftherakis was previously a professor at CITY College, University of York Europe Campus in Greece, and an honorary Reader of computer science at the University of Sheffield. He has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and he spent the last 15 years fighting for gender equality in computer science working together with ACM-W and ACM-W Europe leadership and volunteers. In 2014 he received the prestigious University of Sheffield Senate Award for Sustained Excellence in Learning and Teaching.
Brandywine: What courses are you teaching?
Eleftherakis: I teach data structures and algorithms, computational theory, and programming language concepts, but the most exciting is that I am setting up the final year project for our seniors in computer science that will allow our students to demonstrate their skills and potential.
I like to be close to my students, know them personally, and understand their problems and specific individual needs, so I can offer them the best learning experience possible.
—George Eleftherakis , associate professor of computer science
Brandywine: What interested you in teaching at Brandywine?
Eleftherakis: I was interested in Penn State Brandywine because of its student-centered philosophy with its small class sizes, and its values. I prefer to have small classes instead of large in huge auditoriums, where you do your lecture and most of your students will never get to know you. I like to be close to my students, know them personally, and understand their problems and specific individual needs, so I can offer them the best learning experience possible. I believed that you could do this at Brandywine (and I am glad that I was right, Brandywine is a great place to work and study), while at the same time you enjoy being a member of a big university with a land-grant mission. That’s a unique combination that allows you to focus to your students but at the same time your efforts to have a significant impact to the wider society.
Brandywine: What is your background and experience?
Eleftherakis: I studied physics initially, and then I did a master’s and a Ph.D. in computer science. I’ve known I wanted to teach since I was 11 years old — I had to help teach a second-grade class while the teacher was substituting for another class. It was a milestone in my life that made me want to continue teaching. I liked challenges, so teaching in a high school or something similar was not enough of a challenge for me, so I turned to higher education. From there, I earned my master’s and Ph.D. After that, I devoted my whole professional life to my academic career, my research, and my students.
Brandywine: What has been one of your most challenging experiences, and how did you overcome it?
Eleftherakis: Life is full of challenges overall. As a professor, I’ve been trying to build an environment that offers diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Early in my career in computer science, I had a very pivotal experience that changed my way of thinking about science. I had a cohort that it was just male with no women at all. That was a big problem for the discipline, and I realized that it was more or less the same in the entire science discipline. All people should be represented in science.
Computer science has more career opportunities that people don’t realize – with knowledge in computer science you could work anywhere, in health sector, banking, psychology, archaeology, art, etc. We are collaborating with everyone, and there should be a balance. We should have everyone to be represented in our field in order to make the right decisions and to create the right designs towards an inclusive society.
For me, the important thing is equity. I treat everyone in the same way. To create an equal environment, we have to allow everyone to be part of it and embrace diversity. These principles have been guiding me for the last 15 years, and I joined the Association of Computing Machinery for Women (ACM-W) as a result. ACM-W is a branch of ACM, the largest computer society in the world. ACM-W focuses on helping women enter the computer science field.
I joined ACM while I was living in Europe, and I served several roles there. I was the head of the ACM European Council of Chapter Leaders always having a focus in supporting women. I assisted in organizing a conference every year to celebrate women in computing. I enjoyed being part of almost all of them, and I never experienced such an enthusiasm anywhere before. I had the honor to meet and work with extremely passionate and capable people like Reyyan Ayfer, Ruth Lennon and Rukiye Altin, among many other amazing volunteers.
Overall, I feel I did the best I could to encourage and motivate women to join computer science and I will never stop until every gender will be equally represented in computer science. I want all of us to have equal opportunities to do what we’re passionate about. I believe that innovation and creativity come from diversity, and I like to see diversity in my classroom.
I enjoy teaching people who have no experience in computer programming because I’m helping students take their first steps into the fascinating and rewarding world of computer science.
—George Eleftherakis , associate professor of computer science
Brandywine: What made you interested in pursuing a degree and career in computer science?
Eleftherakis: I love challenges, and there is nothing more challenging than computer science at this stage. It's a never-ending story. By the time that you feel that you start learning something, scientists are inventing 100 more things. It's different from other science fields where you could become an expert on something and stay an expert all your life. You must keep on reading and developing your knowledge continuously. Plus, you work with people from any other discipline allowing you to create a multi-disciplinary profile. I feel that computer science is the only discipline that can offer me these things because everything is changing so fast. It allows me to have a new challenge every month for life.
Brandywine: What course has been your favorite to teach and why?
Eleftherakis: I would say I enjoy teaching programming to people that had no experience, either graduate students who are coming from different disciplines or first-year undergraduate students. I enjoy teaching people who have no experience in computer programming because I’m helping students take their first steps into the fascinating and rewarding world of computer science. I also enjoy supervising students in their final year projects since you enjoy seeing a student mature and becoming a colleague.
Brandywine: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Eleftherakis: I travel a lot. When I travel, I like to meet people and walk around the town I’m in. I'm not a person that likes to go to tourist spots; I prefer to go to the streets and to the markets, meet the locals and understand their culture. I also like walking a lot (especially when in foreign places).
Brandywine: Anything else to add? Anything you would like people to know about you?
Eleftherakis: As I said I strongly believe in equity, and I will do my best to promote the common values we share with Penn State University. I strongly believe that DEI aren’t separate — they’re one thing. We must treat people the same way and offer to all of them the same opportunity regardless of age, race, gender, religion, disability, socioeconomic status, or any other diverse backgrounds.
I’ve been fighting the last 15 years for equity. We should all do our best to establish equity so to create a better version of this world for our families and the community. My aim is to offer all my students the same opportunity to learn and prosper in computer science.