HES: Luciana Vaccaro, on a mission for students

Sincere and direct gaze, firm handshake and warm smile: you just have to greet her to understand that Luciana Vaccaro is a woman with character as much as of heart. Two traits that are confirmed when she starts talking. And whether it is her personal journey or her mission as rector of HES-SO, the second largest academic institution in Switzerland, we naturally feel the demand, but also the concern for others, the desire to shake things up:

“My primary goal is to enable students (approximately 22,000) to develop their skills and provide the faculty with the means to teach!”

With an iron fist in a velvet glove, she is particularly committed to issues of individual integrity, equal rights and against gender stereotypes: “We have already set up various programs to promote the top profile of careers” for women or to deconstruct patriarchal representations – e.g. computer workshops for girls aged 9 to 12 years – but… there are still so many obstacles to break down! ”.

Dyslexia, Latin and Greek

She was born in 1969 and comes from Naples, a “diverse and multicultural” city where she went to school. Not without difficulty: “I, who am a daughter of physics and mathematics, like my father, who is an engineer, I had to follow a Latin-Greek course, like all children with intellectual backgrounds. It was so much the more difficult as I am dyslexic: as a 6-year-old, I made double-digit divisions, but I could not read until I was 9 years old!

In addition to this problem, her parents divorced when she was 10 years old. She and her youngest stay with their father, which is not common. No matter, she makes this ordeal a strength: “I had to ignore my mother, it taught me a kind of resilience … At the same time, the development of this male environment also proved to me that nothing is forbidden because you are a My career proves it by the way: I give everything for my work, but it has never stopped me from having a life next door: a husband, children, friends, hobbies, travel … ”What should it be, when she has matured is in her pocket, Luciana Vaccaro enters the university:

“It was a release when I was finally able to do what interested me: physics. Besides, it was at this point that I met him who is still my husband today!

Like a click

In 1996, after graduating, she got an internship at CERN: “I thought I would stay 6 months in Switzerland, but I never left, and I was even naturalized in 2017!” In fact, she continued her studies at EPFL, where she earned a doctorate in microtechnology. Then, from 2000, he worked at the Department of Microoptics at the University of Neuchâtel. And it was here that her fate changed again: as a young mother and pregnant with her second daughter, she started a European collaborative project … accepted the day after her birth, in August 2005!

“I think motherhood and the success of this project have changed my vision of things: laboratories are essential, scientists need to do basic research. But I found myself in a kind of schizophrenia: I spent my working day in the abstract and in the evening, at home, I was confronted with very specific questions, and I found less and less meaning in what I was doing … Once my project was validated, it clicked! “

Convinced that social cohesion goes through education, the physicist rejects: “I approached management with the idea of ​​seeing how to get the institution to develop.” She successfully established local and international projects, particularly the EPFL Grant Office, and in 2013 became the first female principal to head HES-SO. and apostolate. And a communicative passion: listening to it, you just want to follow it.

What is the resource: His family, swimming, vacation in the family home in Sardinia and … preparing Italian meals “for 25 people”!

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