Walking around the Horseshoe is a grounding experience for USC's new president Michael Amiridis, who is returning to lead South Carolina's flagship university after seven years away.
“I love the green. I love walking around it,” Amiridis said.
For him, the Horseshoe not only displays the history of the university but also reminds him of the many years he spent in Columbia with his wife, Ero Aggelopoulou-Amiridis, while growing their family.
“It’s emotional, because I remember — with my wife, for example, being pregnant and to have to walk around. It was a great place to walk around,” Amiridis said. “(The Horseshoe) is so peaceful.”
During his 21 years spent at USC, Amiridis held many positions, including dean of the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC), executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.
As provost, Amiridis spent time working with Dennis Pruitt, the vice president for student affairs and vice provost. Pruitt said that even though Amiridis is a very driven person who always looks to improve things, he is also a really “down-to-earth guy.”
“We used to all dress up at football games — we used to wear coats and ties, and I remember when he came to one of the first football games he came to, he was in a Carolina sports shirt,” Pruitt said. “All of the sudden, everybody else was in a Carolina sports shirt.”
In 2015, Amiridis left his position as provost to become the chancellor of the University of Illinois Chicago. Even though he spent the past seven years living in Chicago, Amiridis said he still had a connection with the university since his two kids graduated from USC in 2019 and 2022.
Coming back to USC feels like returning home, he said.
“The last seven years that we have been away, (we were) always coming back,” Amiridis said. “This period of time, we never cut the ties with South Carolina, so it feels like coming back home with all the friends or the people that we know at the university, in the community.”
Amiridis said that Columbia has changed a little over the years, seeing that some of his favorite restaurants like Garibaldi Café and Harper's Restaurant have closed. But some pieces of the city remain the same, like one of his favorite restaurants, California Dreaming.
“The College of Engineering is kind of isolated. There is not much,” Amiridis said of his 15 years with the CEC. “California Dreaming, it was almost my college cafeteria.”
When he was in college, Amiridis said that he was a “typical student” who participated in Student Government and enjoyed playing basketball on a club team outside of school. As a first-generation college student, he said that even though there were challenges, his parents supported his educational journey from his hometown in Greece to seeking higher education in the U.S.
“My parents were great. They pushed both me and my brother towards higher education because they didn’t have the opportunity. They were children of the second World War. They never got the chance — they had to work to survive,” Amiridis said.
When starting his career at USC as an assistant professor of chemical engineering for the CEC, Amiridis said that he never thought he would be in the presidential role.
Working as the president of a university is a demanding position. But when Amiridis finds himself with free time, he likes to decompress by watching tv-shows with his wife such as “Ozark,” “Stranger Things” and “Un village français," a historical drama set in a French village during World War II. He also enjoys collecting stamps.
“I have been collecting stamps since I was 6 or 7 years old,” Amiridis said. “It’s something that relaxes me because when you have a small piece of paper and you’re trying to figure out its history and where it’s from and why does it show what it shows, it takes your mind away from everything else.”
Despite the time-consuming role, Amiridis said the great benefit of working in academia is the students who keep him excited and active.
While he was provost, Amiridis showed up to open houses and recruiting events for students, according to Anna Edwards, the associate vice president for student life. Edwards said Amiridis was always engaged with students at these events.
"I just remember his presence," Edwards said. "He's got a great sense of humor and personality, and I think that shows pretty early on in conversations with him."
Through these interactions, Edwards said Amiridis drew students to him, creating a more welcoming environment for the student body. For Amiridis, communicating with students is one of the most important aspects of his role as president.
“You’re idealistic, you’re optimistic. You want to change the world and you want to change yourselves,” Amiridis said. “Interacting with students keeps me young.”