Balancing a career and life can be a challenge to many people, but Despina Liaskos seems to have things well in hand.
Considered to be a model for future leaders in our area, Liaskos currently lives in Valparaiso with her husband, Peter. Liaskos is a recent recipient of the Indiana University Alumni Association President’s Award for her service to and work in that organization. Despina earned her MBA at IU Northwest in Gary, Indiana.
Throughout her career at IUAA, Liaskos has enjoyed numerous accomplishments. Among them; Promoting IU Northwest alumni engagement, leading school-wide fundraising campaigns, acting as the Annual Giving Chair this year for the advisory board philanthropy committee, and many others. But she is perhaps most proud of her recent work to help fund and endowed scholarship through IUNAA.
“It was through my leadership that we began fundraising for an alumni scholarship to be endowed through the IU foundation,” Liasko said. “We wanted it to be endowed so it wouldn’t be just a one-time scholarship.
Liaskos has served on the IU Northwest Alumni Board since 2008, as board president from 2009-2013 and is currently serving as president again. She also serves on the IU Northwest Chancellor’s Commission for Community Engagement, and the IU Northwest Advisory Board.
Though she currently calls Valparaiso her home, Liaskos is a proud Highland native.
“That’s where I grew up. I went to school there and graduated from Highland High,” she said.
Within just a few moments of talking with Liaskos, it is obvious that singing has always been her passion. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in music and vocal performance from Ball State, then went on to the University of Akron on a full-ride scholarship and assistantship. It was there that she received her Master’s in vocal performance. She went on to receive her MBA from IU Northwest and a Master’s in Education in school administration from Indiana State University.
“I am a lifelong student,” Liaskos laughed before quoting Einstein, saying “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.”
Liaskos traces her musical career as far back as eighth grade, when she was encouraged by her teacher, Ms. Perrine, who heard something in her voice and encouraged Liaskos to consider doing a solo at ISSMA Competition.
“Singing kind of came naturally to me,” she said.
After receiving a perfect score in competition during her junior year of high school, she received a letter from one of her judges, Mary Hagopian, inviting her to participate in a summer program at Ball State.
“I had already applied for business school. It was between business and music for me, at the time. At the last minute, I chose music and I had two auditions: Butler and Ball State. I chose Ball State because of the voice teacher there, and I’m glad I did. Mary Hagopian was a been-there, done-that kind of person, and we’re still in contact. She has been a second mother to me,” she said.
Though she felt a strong calling to music, and possessed a remarkable voice, Liaskos also had an interest in business, and even worked as banker while in college While working on her Arts Administration degree at the University of Akron, her second full scholarship, she worked at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall which she calls a wonderful experience.
“I can’t tell you the concerts that I’ve seen, the people that I’ve met… the artists.. Professionals. It was terrific.”
Upon finishing her studies at The University of Akron, Liaskos substitute taught while doing auditions for various opera programs. During that time, she attended several auditions before ultimately realizing that the lifestyle of a professional singer simply wasn’t for her.
“The travelling, being by myself... no stability. I needed stability,” she said.
She then landed a job worked for a while at The Instrumentalist, a music magazine.
“I worked in advertising sales. I learned how to do everything, from putting ads together, to selling advertisements, editing, reviews. I did just about everything, covering for other people when they left,” she said. “I learned a lot from that job.
Liaskos left the job at The Instrumentalist to return to Northwest Indiana and landed another job in banking, where she worked for seven years. But still, she felt something was missing.
“The one thing that I loved was coaching and mentoring my staff, watching them move forward, helping them move forward. I realized that maybe education was where I needed to be,” she said, who then called the Department of Education to ask about getting licensure.
Valparaiso at the time was hiring for a part-time business teacher, and that allowed her to get her foot in the door of an education career, and she took a position teaching business at Valparaiso High School.
Liaskos began teaching full-time the following year. She currently teaches dual-credit coursework, teaching principles of marketing, business law, and entrepreneurship. With her degrees and licensure, she can teach at collegiate level. She is also licensed to teach vocal and general music.
Liaskos is heavily involved at VHS. This past year she was the ELL Club sponsor, a teacher mentor, sat on the School Improvement Team Committee, and served as a Valparaiso High School Teachers Union Representative.
Understandably, free time is a premium and hard to come by, but she makes time for her husband Peter Liaskos, often stopping in at their family-owned restaurant, Nick and George’s in Hammond, to visit with him and occasionally lend a hand with the business.
She loves living in Northwest Indiana, and says that the location here is, “just perfect.”
“We are so close to a large city. We have a city nearby where we can get whatever we want, but we still have areas here that are still national land areas, places where you can get out and just go for a walk. We have everything right here at our fingertips. Also - as an educator - we have many universities right here. Valparaiso University, Purdue Northwest, Ivy Tech, and of course Indiana University Northwest so many outlets right here in the region.”
She is also very fond of the local festivals the region has to offer.
“Being Greek, I love the local Greek Fests, especially the one at St George Greek Orthodox Church,” she said. “That’s our church. That’s where we got married. That’s where I grew up, where I attended Greek school.”
If you’ve ever had the pleasure to attend Commencement at IU Northwest, you may have heard her voice, since she sings the Star Spangled Banner as well as the IU school song - Hail to Old IU.
As anyone who has heard her voice, or who has benefitted from her tireless work with the IUAA would no doubt attest, Despina Liaskos is herself an incredible talent, and a remarkable asset to northwest Indiana.