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Q&A with the new vice-provost, faculty affairs

Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano on her favourite Italian dish, her career as an academic and what she likes about Ryerson
By: Emily Graham
October 15, 2020
Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano

Despite starting out in her new role remotely, Vice-Provost, Faculty Affairs Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano is making meaningful connections with colleagues.

After almost 15 years at York University, Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano was ready for a new challenge. No stranger to adventures (she was once the Italian voice of the universal translator on an episode of Star Trek: Discovery!), she joined Ryerson as the vice-provost, faculty affairs during a global pandemic.  

Fluent in Italian and French, but unfortunately not Klingon (yet), Iannacito-Provenzano spoke to Ryerson Today about what keeps her grounded, her experience at the university so far, and why it’s important to take care of yourself.  

What has been the most surprising aspect of the vice-provost, faculty affairs position? 

Since I started this role remotely, I was worried about how I’d make connections and how this would work in the virtual world. However, in the last three months I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people at Ryerson through Zoom or Google Meet. I feel like I’m really part of a team and am surprised at how welcoming everyone has been in a virtual environment and during a pandemic, in a situation that could have been perceived as very tough.  

What, in your opinion, is Ryerson’s greatest strength?

In my short time at Ryerson, what stands out to me is our community’s resilience. Ryerson has students, faculty and staff who are doing really innovative and cool things on the daily, despite the pandemic. In the meetings I’ve been in and in speaking to various people, it’s clear that we are rising up and coming together to help one another.  

Another important strength to note is that we truly live our values of access, equity, diversity and inclusion at Ryerson. In my role as vice-provost, faculty affairs, I take care of hires, tenure promotion, faculty recruitment, and development. The principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and our conversations and commitment to anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism really do permeate what we do and that’s how it needs to be.  

What’s your one piece of advice for staying motivated when things get particularly tough?

That’s an easy one for me. I would say to faculty, staff, students, and leaders to make time for yourself and take care of your loved ones. It’s so easy to forget about ourselves and people are always so busy. So, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, have a good meal and enjoy conversations with friends and family.   

What accomplishment are you most proud of, personal or professional?

I taught in Florence, Italy for a few summers as part of a study abroad program. Florence is my favourite place in the world and I love to teach. One of my biggest professional accomplishments was seeing how students' lives were really transformed by being exposed to a new culture, a different language and new way of doing things. Some of these students had never had the opportunity to leave Toronto, so being able to bring them to a cooking class to learn about the art of pizza making and seeing Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze in person was really rewarding.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself when you were just starting out in your career? 

I would tell myself so many things, but one of them would be to be patient. When you’re a young academic, you want everything at the beginning. But I’d say to be patient, network, get excited about your research and share it with your students, travel to share said research, and get involved in the life of the university. My advice to academics in particular is that if you’re working on something, publish it! Don’t wait until it’s perfect, get it out because if you wait, it’ll never be published.

What’s your fondest memory of your university days?

Studying French in another province and spending months at a time in Italy studying, travelling, and doing my field work. That was the best learning experience and really enhanced university life for me as I got to put into practice what I learned from my cool professors.  

Tell us about your primary research and your connection to Italy.

My primary research area is Italian dialectology. I study the dialects of the south of Italy, in particular of a small region called Molise, where my parents are from. As my research interests grew and I grew as an academic and professor, I started to get interested in social media and language. This led me to launching a project on Italian Canadian ethnicity on Facebook and the trends we were finding in Italian Canadians between the ages of 18 to 25. This led to publishing articles, launching conferences, and eventually discovering the dynamics between food and the Italian language and the way the language is used in advertising. I’m currently working on a project on Italian-Canadian recipes that is in the beginning stages.

As a culinary linguist with a special interest in Italian, what is your favourite Italian meal to prepare? 

I can’t pick something I like in particular because there are so many things! However, what I love to make and eat is antipasto. I could eat any type of antipasto and no main dish if I could. My family would say though that I make the best tiramisu.

What is your favourite way to unwind?

I like to read and I collect books (especially old books). I also like spending time with my family because they make me laugh, keep me grounded and happy.

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