Luisa Lambertini tapped as the new rector of USI in Lugano

Luisa Lambertini was unanimously appointed as the new rector of Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI) © 2023 EPFL

Luisa Lambertini was unanimously appointed as the new rector of Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI) © 2023 EPFL

Luisa Lambertini, an economist by training, holds the Chair of International Finance at EPFL’s College of Management of Technology (CDM) and is EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Postgraduate Education. After devoting her time to addressing the needs of our PhD students, she will soon pack her bags for Lugano, where she was unanimously appointed as the new rector of Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI). She will start her new job on 1 July 2023.

A sizeable challenge awaits Luisa Lambertini this summer when she takes up her new role as USI rector in Lugano. She was appointed by a unanimous decision by the USI Council following a highly competitive selection process. “We chose Luisa Lambertini for her outstanding academic career and her experience as EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Postgraduate Education, where she led a doctoral school with some 2,400 students and 22 different programs and headed up EPFL’s continuing education initiatives,” says Monica Duca Widmer, the president of the USI Council. “Her international experience and management skills will be particularly useful as we implement our school’s enhancement and development strategies.”

But before heading off to Lugano, Lambertini has some time to reflect on the past. Sitting at her sunlit desk, she looks back fondly on her days as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. “Economists can’t work alone,” she says. “For our profession to advance, it’s essential that we work synergistically.” This kind of constructive peer-to-peer dialogue is what drew her to a position in academia. Now as a professor at EPFL and holder of the CDM finance chair since 2007, Lambertini still believes firmly in discussion and debate. No matter how packed her schedule is, she blocks out two days a week for her PhD students.

Lambertini, who is from Bologna, originally wanted to study mathematics but was persuaded by her parents to go into accounting instead. “After five years as an accounting student, it became clear that it wasn’t for me,” she recalls. She therefore enrolled in an economics program at the University of Bologna.

Expert in fiscal and monetary policy

“Economics involves studying how different agents – consumers, workers, governments and banks, for example – all interact,” says Lambertini. “And since I love the process of mathematical reasoning, I focused my career right from the start on developing macroeconomic models that describe the mechanisms experienced by these agents in the real world.”

Now a renowned expert in fiscal and monetary policy, Lambertini looks in particular at how these policies affect decisions made by banks. One high-profile study she led involved analyzing data from the otherwise very reserved Swiss National Bank. “After the 2008 financial crisis, a lot of new regulations were introduced to improve banking oversight,” she says. “My study involved determining whether these regulations changed banks’ behavior. For instance, since they were required to hold more capital, would they pass on the additional cost to customers through higher interest rates on mortgages? Many people were worried about that, but we showed scientifically that their concerns were unfounded.”

“I helped set up CDM’s finance department since, as an economist, I was one of the first professors to join the college with expertise in that field.” – Luisa Lambertini

Lambertini acquired her knowledge of economics on two continents. After graduating from the University of Bologna, she obtained a Master’s degree in economics from Warwick University in the UK before boarding her vespa on a boat for Berkeley, where she completed her PhD in economics in 1995. She began working as an assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and later took a position as an associate professor at Boston College. In 2007, both she and her husband, also a professor, wanted to move back to Europe with their 4-year-old daughter, and therefore accepted offers from EPFL for professorship positions for both of them in their respective fields. Lambertini – also a former competitive athlete who played on Italy’s national handball team for ten years – thus traded in her view of the Atlantic for that of Lake Geneva, where she now enjoys windsurfing among other activities.

“I helped set up CDM’s finance department since, as an economist, I was one of the first professors to join the college with expertise in that field,” she says. After 15 years in the department, she hasn’t lost her passion for teaching. “We’re still a small college at EPFL but we have steadily expanded our range of degree programs, including at the Master’s level. We also offer a growing number of management and finance classes designed specifically for Bachelor’s students in the humanities and the social sciences.”

Providing mentoring opportunities

Lambertini dons her various hats with the same level of enthusiasm. In addition to her roles as the EPFL associate vice president and CDM finance chair, she’s also vice president of the EPFL Wish Foundation – an organization created to encourage young women to pursue careers in science and engineering. “All my jobs are exciting and they’re also pretty intense,” she says. “Thanks to my background in finance and economics I know how to manage budgets, which helps me in my position as head of postgraduate education. But there’s so much more to this position – I also have to be there for our postgrad students, to guide and support them.” This support includes setting up a mentoring program where PhD students are paired up with someone more senior. The mentors help students navigate problems and talk through conflicts they may face, while ensuring full anonymity. “The mentoring program has been really useful because it helps prevent conflicts from escalating,” says Lambertini.