By Olivia Cousins, Ph.D.
Special to Campus News
Prof. Sophia Aidiniou joined the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in the fall of 2011. Invited to be a member of the Department of Health Education, she typically received course assignments to teach Introductory Health courses along with Advanced Health courses. She developed a reputation for engaging students through her judicious use of social media combined with a strong background in theory. Her courses filled quickly and she brought a new energy to the department, pushing faculty to embrace the newer ways of teaching that included blackboard and the expanding world of education enhanced by the use of the internet. Faculty, adjunct as well as full timers ‘took note’ and followed her lead. It was clear from ‘the buzz’ around her engaging teaching style that she was a force to watch. What was also very clear was that she had a unique grasp of an ability to blend theory with practical experiences. On any given evening, she could be observed meeting with her students, individually and in groups, providing guidance around job applications and prerequisite experience which included a sound course selection that matched up with what employers were demanding.
Fast forward, two year later. In November of 2013, Prof. Aidiniou introduced to the Health Education Department a project that would involve educating and training our Health Education students about disease, transplants and organ donations. Always, ‘hands on’ throughout that fall semester, a variety of outside speakers were invited by Prof. Aidiniou to her classes to share their areas of expertise which matched up with the theory that she covered in her classes.
During the course of this long running ‘project’ Prof. Aidiniou explored, forged and developed a collaborative partnership with LiveOn NY (formerly known as the New York State Organ Donor Network). Over the last four years, this collaborative partnership has taken students in the Health Education Department out of the classroom and into the world of stellar Workshops on Organ Donor Awareness, Peer Training, and program development that serves as an introduction for community college students to explore the expanding world of health education and access to internships that provide training and supervision.
A true visionary who was constantly looking at ways for students to not only learn but to also receive credit for that learning, Prof. Aidiniou explored and investigated the possibility of our Health Education student participants to receive Co- Curricular Transcript (CCT) credit for their work on this health education project that was now well known throughout the college.
CCT was granted under the area of Leadership Training, Community Service, and Workshops.
Under her leadership efforts and her collaborations with LiveOn NY, Prof. Sophia Aidiniou was responsible for providing a fun, engaging, and educational module for BMCC students to make an impact in the college community and in the communities where they live. Working together they increased the number of registered donors (many of them representing minority communities). Over the last four years, she has recruited over sixty (60) students from BMCC and from the Department’s Health Education classes to train as peer counselors in the area of organ donations. These students, in time became Peer Educators who were able to spread the word about the importance of organ donations and transplants to others within BMCC and the NYC communities where they lived.
Every fall since 2013 Prof. Sophia Aidiniou has conducted voluntary educational training sessions on BMCC’s campus. Her Peer Educators helped to develop an annual event on Organ Donation Awareness and how it literally saves lives. This event generally occurs every November and draws anywhere from 300 to 500 students, faculty and staff over the course of two hours into the BMCC Richard Harris Terrace.
Students see video presentations on the power of organ donation; they hear speakers who share riveting stories of how a stranger or a mother saved not one but many lives through the gift of organ donations. Many times, in the audience, three or four people stand up to also provide testimonies on their own organ transplant or the transplant of a family member. Many of her speakers like Dave Rodgers, Dina Barham and Jennifer Lentini return each year to share their stories. Medical perspectives have been provided by Dr. Ernest Patti, Senior Emergency Physician and President of the St. Barnabas Hospital medical staff.
Prof. Aidiniou has won over many of our BMCC faculty and staff (myself included) who are more than pleased to assist her in this wonderful ‘project’ that to date has resulted in over 800 participants who took the pledge to become an organ donor, and have participated in the saving of hundreds of lives. No small feat that has not gone unnoticed. Professor Aidiniou’s growing list of sponsors for the BMCC Organ Awareness event has included 7-Eleven, Farmer’s Pantry, Red Bull, Frito Lay, Dirty Potato Chips, Bai Drinks, and Boom Cups, companies who generously donated snacks, drinks and giveaways for these events. And it doesn’t end here. On any given Wednesday in the spring semester, one can see a group of Prof. Aidiniou’s old and new Peer Educators, manning and womaning Tables with information on Organ Donor Awareness, and if one listens really closely, you can hear the personal stories of how a life or lives were saved because of an organ donation.
In March of 2016, Prof. Sophia Aidiniou and her LIveOn NY collaborator, Ms. Karen Cummings appeared on CUNY TV for their episode: “Crises Not Averted,” which focused on the paucity of organ donations in the state as well as its impact on minority communities. In January 2017, Prof. Aidiniou was honored and awarded the “Making a Difference in the Community Award” from LiveOn NY.
Prof. Olivia Cousins, Ph.D., is former Chair of BMCC Health Education Department and former Board Chair of the National Women’s Health Network.