UNO professor to go on research fellowship in Greece

Photo by Ryan Henriksen

Charlotte Reilly

Dr. Nicholas Stergiou is going on a research fellowship to Greece to study human movement variability, but what he first became interested in was sports shoes.

He is conducting research in Greece in November and December to partner with Associate Professor Vassilia Hatzitaki, who teaches in Aristotle University’s Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences.

Dr. Stergiou was born in Greece, and became passionate about the development of sports shoes during his undergraduate program there. In order to pursue his passion, he needed to get a master’s in biomechanics. At that time, there were no graduate programs in that field in Greece.

He applied to the master’s program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha because he read an article by a UNO professor that was related to the development of shoes.

After he received his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, he served in the Greek army. When he completed his military service, UNO offered him a position as a professor.

“My first laboratory in ’96 was the size of my current office, and I had almost no equipment,” Stergiou said. “Through hard work, the support of the university, the community and administration, we were able to get to where we are today. This is not only the only research building on campus, this is the only research building in the world exclusively dedicated to biomechanics.”

Dr. Stergiou’s research has moved on from his early interest in shoes. Now, he studies people’s posture when standing. He has found that people sway, in the direction of the object they are looking at, when they stand. As people get older, the swaying sometimes turns into falls. Stergiou said he wants his
research to make a positive impact on elderly people’s health.

Dr. Stergiou has also researched cerebral palsy in infants, and between 150 to 200 publications on a variety of diseases and research, said Jeffery Kaipust, who Dr. Stergiou mentored.

In 2016, the Fulbright Foundation in Greece and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation launched The Greek Diaspora Fellowship program. Any native Greek professor who teaches or researches in the U.S. or Canada can apply to travel to partner with Greek universities.

“When I read that announcement, it almost described me,” Stergiou said. “Someone that is Greek, was born in Greece, lives in America, is a successful scientist and is interested in doing so research. I mean they just forgot to put my name on it.”

But fellows do not need to be scientists to participate. Professors from any field are welcome to apply, said Sarah Needham who works for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

“The economic crisis caused a brain-drain for Greece,” Needham said. “Individuals who wanted to pursue higher level academics had to leave. We want to reverse that.”

Dr. Stergiou said he is excited to represent UNO in his home country. He hopes to make breakthroughs in his research and inspire young Greeks.

“He is creating worldwide recognition for the university through this project,” Kaipust said. “Researchers are interested. It leads to more collaborations and better science. He’s affecting a whole culture.”