Providing a solid foundation to future engineers

Professor Rocco zito

It was early in the 90s when Professor Rocco Zito, Head of Engineering at Flinders University, first got a taste for engineering.

Growing up surrounded by his Italian family, he worked with his uncle concreting and laying house foundations in his school holidays.

“Because that’s what boys did in the holidays,” laughed Rocco.

“I remember the civil engineers would come out and inspect our work.

“They had an air of power and integrity about them, I liked that.”

Being the first in his family to go to university, Rocco had little guidance in choosing what to study, however he eventually went with what was familiar to him and chose civil engineering.

In the early days of studying his civil engineering degree, Rocco demonstrated great proficiency in creating graphs using the colour plotter, leading him to secure a research assistant role within the School of Civil Engineering at the University of South Australia. It was here that Rocco found his niche and over the next decade would fine tune his craft, including completing a PhD in his early 30s.

In 2014, Rocco was lured to Flinders with the opportunity to lead Civil Engineering which was part of the Engineering branch of the then School of Engineering, Maths and Computing.

Appointed Head of Engineering in 2021, Rocco has overseen significant growth and advancements within the Engineering program; a significant rise in degree offerings, the launch of the master’s degrees and the surge in popularity of the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program, just to name a few.

“The industry placement is world class, it really is,” says Rocco.

“Students are involved in a five-month (or 20 week) placement where they’re required to competitively apply for a placement like a graduate applies for their first job, choosing to either stay locally in South Australia or extend their WIL experience nationally or internationally.

“Many of our engineering students are offered ongoing roles following their placement. Our employability rate directly from WIL is close to 80%.”

Rocco is proud to be part of the celebrations marking 30 years of Engineering Education at Flinders in 2023. The commitment to providing a comprehensive and world-class education has made Flinders a leading institution in the field.

Rocco credits much of the success of engineering at Flinders to the dedicated academics he works alongside who play a vital role in teaching and guiding students through their studies in a rapidly evolving world.

Flinders have academics who have been with the University for more than 25 years, including alumni that have gone on to become staff teaching the very degree they studied.

The opening of the Tonsley campus in 2015 was a critical moment for the University and stands out as another significant highlight to Rocco.

“Our location at Tonsley enables us to establish a high level of engagement with some of the State’s biggest businesses and key industry partners,” he says.

Keen to utilise his skillset in transportation and the opportunity to further showcase the Tonsley campus and its future developments, Rocco played a pivotal role in the three-stage, $4 million driverless shuttle project FLEX (Flinders Express) – a French-designed driverless public electric shuttle operating around the Tonsley Innovation District.

Rocco is excited for what may lay ahead for Engineering and Flinders with several announcements and projects on the horizon including Festival Plaza in Adelaide’s CBD to open in 2024, and the recent AUKUS agreement which will see significant growth for Engineering.

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2023 Encounter Magazine College of Science and Engineering Engineering

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