In an event held Monday, 14 December 2009, in Athens, Friends of AIT awarded the first Niki Award to Dr. Thanasis Oikonomou, a professor of Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and a scientific researcher at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Dr. Thanasis Economou has been building robotics and measurement instruments for interplanetary spacecraft since the mid-1960s being associated with NASA’s major space missions. The award was presented on behalf of Friends of AIT by His Beatitude Hieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece in front of an audience of distinguished guests, including Hellenic Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Theodoros Pangalos, Carnegie Mellon University president Dr. Jared L. Cohon, AIT’s President of the Board of Directors Mr. Socrates Kokkalis, and the president of the Board of Directors of Friends of AIT Mr. Theodoros Venetsanos, while greeting remarks were sent by the Ecumenical Partriach Bartholomew and by H.R.M. Queen Rania of Jordan. The ceremony was hosted by Hellenic Olympic medalist Ms. Maria Georgatou. In his greeting remarks, His Beatitude Hieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece stated that “distinguished scientists such as Dr. Oikonomou represent a role model for the youth and must be cherished by Greece, feel supported by the mother nation, which they so much love, which inspires them, and whose progress they would like to witness.” AIT’s President of the Board of Directors Mr. Socrates Kokkalis stressed that working towards the vision of a Greece of innovation and excellence in the context of the knowledge society is a challenge for development, and called for a systematic and for a joint, coordinated effort between the state and civil society, so that opportunities, as well as role models for the young, can arise. The president of the Board of Directors of Friends of AIT Mr. Theodoros Venetsanos presented the goals of Friends of AIT underlining that beyond public awareness and fundraising toward offering financial support to top students, Friends of AIT seeks to honor an internationally recognized Greek with the Niki Award every year. Friends of AIT has established the annual Niki Award to honor Greek scientists, and scientists of Greek descent, who are recognized by the international community for their contribution to the world of science and technology and who inspire new scientists to follow in their footsteps. Upon receiving the award, Dr. Thanasis Oikonomou stated “During all my life I tried to satisfy a thirst for our most immediate and distant surroundings. For me, all these exciting space journeys in which I participated were an incredible dream. My wish is that there may emerge a favorable environment in Greece that is conducive to new opportunities for scientists to make their own contributions to our country.” Athens Information Technology (AIT) is an internationally-renowned education and research center founded in 2002 by the INTRACOM group of companies and boasts exclusive cooperation in education and research with Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard in the USA, and with Aalborg University in Denmark. AIT represents the largest private sector investment in education and research in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East in the fields of information technology, telecommunications, and innovation management. Over 2500 middle- and upper-level management from the public and private sectors of Southeastern Europe and the Middle East have completed AIT's executive training programs. The Scholarship, Awards and Financial Aid Fund was established by Friends of AIT and is supervised by AIT’s Board of Directors. The sole goal of the Fund is to procure the necessary funds for funding talented and financially deserving students. To date, the Fund has financed 323 scholarships of students from 22 countries, equivalent to a total of 4,5 million Euros.