In an exclusive interview with La Fiamma, Scarparo said that the position, in a nutshell, is about “looking after the students and ensuring they have the best experience possible – from before they come to university, to when they transition to university, and also when they are transitioning out of university”.
“It’s about providing consistent and excellent support to ensure successful learning,” she added.
This support will ensure that all learners understand how the university and its administrative systems function, but also to ensure that those systems are “student-centric”, with the focus on the students.
“But it’s also about supporting them with studying, teaching, wellbeing, extracurricular activities and their experience on campus,” Scarparo said.
She admitted that “it’s a very, very big job” but added that “the university has already been doing a good job and there are many good initiatives that have been happening already”.
One of these, the Mental Health Strategy, was developed by Professor Wai Fong Chua, who has been interim in the role since February this year, and who returned to her role in the Business School last month.
Scarparo’s current role is Associate Professor for the School of Literature, Language and Linguistics, and Associate Dean (Student Experience), at the Australian National University (ANU).
In the latter position, Scarparo has “introduced a number of programs that are designed to support students, particularly students in transition [first year students]”.
One of these – the peer mentoring program – gave students the opportunity to receive mentoring from students in their second and third year, with a particular focus on learning-support strategies.
Peer mentors lead sessions on how to approach assignments, create a bibliography, or even study for a specific discipline, which can be very different from material learned in school.
Scarparo’s biggest passion in this regard is “ensuring that all students, irrespective of background, are supported in the best possible way”.
She said that she wants to ensure that students of any diverse background, whether racial, social or socio-economic, rural, second-language English, or even students whose parents have not been to university, are “supported and the university is welcome to everyone”.
It’s an egalitarian approach to learning which may have been influenced by Scarparo’s many experiences in different universities across the world.
She completed her undergraduate at the University of Cagliari, in Sardinia, a period when she also went on exchange to East Anglia in the UK.
Later on, she attended the University of Ottago in New Zealand, and completed her PhD at the University of Auckland.
At that time, she also went on exchange to Berkeley, in the US.
At each of these universities (and there are four of them!) Scarparo experienced different levels and types of student support.
“My own experience clearly is informing the way in which I approach support for students,” she conceded.
Besides her work with student experience, Scarparo is an accomplished academic of literature, Italian language, culture and cinema, with a focus on women filmmakers and contemporary women writers, and has published many books, including Elusive Subjects: Biography as Gendered Metafiction (2005), Reframing Italy: New Trends in Italian Women’s Filmmaking (with Bernadette Luciano, 2013) and Reggae and Hip Hop in Southern Italy: Politics, Languages and Multiple Marginalities (with Mathias Stevenson, 2018).
Although it is as yet unknown whether she will maintain working in a teaching capacity at USYD, Scarparo said she is “hoping to stay involved in whatever capacity I can”.
Interestingly, Scarparo believes that her academic research may have given her a good grounding for the kind of support-work she will continue to undertake in her new role.
“[My research] has been always about different issues of inclusion and exclusion and marginalisation, so on that level I think I have a very good theoretic understanding on the subject, and also of the cultural expression of marginalised groups,” she concluded.