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People: Maria Mastrokyriakos Enjoys the Mix

(Photo - Maria Mastrokyriakos)
(Photo courtesy Maria Mastrokyriakos.)

Maria Mastrokyriakos grew up in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, and attended a high school of 5,000 students. From childhood to graduation, Mastrokyriakos was surrounded by people of all different cultures, religions, nationalities and economic classes. She says she welcomed the diversity, and grew accustomed to it, so it wasn't until she left home to attend Santa Clara University that she realized how unique her surroundings were.

"I always thought that was the norm!" Mastrokyriakos said, referring to the mixed population of people she grew up around. "I loved the diversity because I have always liked learning about other cultures and other people's way of life."

Mastrokyriakos' early experience in San Francisco has shaped and guided her career. For ten years her work has focused on understanding people. At Santa Clara she studied political science, and went on to graduate school at the University of San Francisco, where she earned a masters degree in public administration with an emphasis on organizational development. She has since worked continuously in human resources positions, specializing in training, development and philanthropy, mostly with non-profit organizations. She was the president of an international youth group, and did training, fundraising and volunteer management for the American Heart Association. Last June she was hired into the SLAC Human Resources Department and is now in charge of training and development.

No matter what the situation, Mastrokyriakos says the central focus of her work is finding out what makes people tick. The answer is never simple, and varies for each individual, she says. And that is where her background has helped.

"Whenever someone makes a decision, or decides to do something a certain way, it has to do with where they came from and the experiences they had," Mastrokyriakos said. "So you can never assume that someone is going to think or react the same way as you, because you had different experiences. So I listen to people. I listen for key words, and I try to understand where they came from. I'm always asking a lot of questions."

Mastrokyriakos' own perspective was deeply impacted by her parents. Her father immigrated to the US from Greece in his 20s, while her mother came from Nicaragua when she was 18. They were both members of the heterogeneous San Francisco population when they met. Mastrokyriakos has found that she shares many of the same experiences, and hence perspectives, of other children of immigrants, including a sometimes intense focus on hard work.

"Other people don't always understand why someone might be so hard on themselves," she said. "But a lot of the people around me worked very hard because they had no other choice. They were working from nothing, but they had big dreams."

It's these kinds of differences that fascinated Mastrokyriakos as a child, and continue to intrigue her in her adult life. The great cultural diversity of the Bay Area gives her plenty of people to learn from, so she plans to stay here for a long time. While it might seem exotic to some people, Mastrokyriakos wants to keep it the norm.

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, February 9, 2011