Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos, background, and St. Petersburg College Tarpon Campus Provost Rodrigo Davis took part in a Skype conference call with Professor Ioannis Seimenis, on the computer screen, of the University of the Aegean on Feb. 5 regarding setting up a Sister Schools program between the schools.

TARPON SPRINGS – The ties that bind Tarpon Springs to Greece are long and strong, dating back to the arrival of Greek sponge divers in the late 1800s up to today, as Tarpon reportedly has the highest percentage of Greek Americans than any city in the United States and the biggest Epiphany celebration outside Greece.

The ties have led to the development of several collaborations over the years, including Sister Cities International, a program connecting Tarpon to the Greek islands of Simi, Halki and Kalymnos via educational opportunities.

Last week, Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos helped add a new strand to the virtual bond between his city and his homeland more than 5,000 miles away. He organized a conference call between SPC-Tarpon Campus Rodrigo Davis and Professor Ioannis Seimenis, dean of the School of Humanities at the University of the Aegean, in Rhodes. The call was designed to launch a Sister Schools partnership between the two schools.

“This is something that I’ve been trying to do for several years, to create a relationship between SPC and the university in Rhodes,” the mayor said while waiting for the Skype session to start at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 5.

“My cousin, who works at Professor Seimenis’ school, helped set this meeting up, so this is the start,” Alahouzos said. “Eventually I’d like to see us exchange students, educational programs and, I hope, professors.”

Davis, who was named provost of St. Petersburg College’s campus on Klosterman Road in January 2018, said he’s excited to explore such a partnership.

“I’m looking to see if we can give students the opportunity to reach across the ocean and understand the culture better,” Davis said before the teleconference started. “It could be Skyping sessions between classes with the opportunity further along to travel to Greece. It all has to start somewhere.”

After establishing the connection with Rhodes, where it was then 3:30 p.m., Davis told Seimenis he is looking forward to any opportunity to work with the University of the Aegean “because Tarpon is an extension of Greece in the U.S.”

“I love cultural exchanges and I’d like to see if we can create study-abroad opportunities for our students in Greece,” Davis added.

Seimenis, who oversees the humanities departments of all six University of the Aegean campuses, said he was in support of forming a partnership between the schools.

“From our side, we’re open to this,” he said. “I am open to hear from your side to see what you want, collaborations between staff and students, or to visit us.”

The Greek university has similar programs with other schools and creating them typically require the writing of a memorandum of understanding. The MOU outlines the details of the proposed collaboration.

“I’m very familiar with the MOU,” Davis replied. He suggested starting an email thread linking school officials and staff on both ends to set up a Skype session between professors to get the ball rolling.

“Absolutely,” Seimenis replied. “I will work with staff to see what we can do on this end.”

Before ending the call, Alahouzos asked the professor to thank his cousin for helping “build the relationship” between the both schools. “The beginning is the hardest part, but we’ll get it done,” he said.

Afterward, Davis said the call had been “very successful,” adding, “Sometimes this is what you need to break the ice.”

The partnership would come at a good time, Davis said, “because it allows us to expand the breadth of our programs abroad.”