The Interview Australia
La Trobe University
Deputy Director of Student Advising

Joanna Shaw

A successful educational institution — one that supports the growth of all its students throughout their journeys and stays by their side all the way through to graduation — understands that everyone is different and completely unique and, therefore, each student requires a different approach. The people who run it will also understand and acknowledge that they won’t always have the correct answers all of the time, but they continue striving to seek them from students regardless, in order to continually improve their performance.

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Joanna Shaw, Deputy Director of Student Advising at La Trobe University (LTU) in Melbourne, Australia, about the importance of attempting to understand students as deeply and widely as possible and, in the process, foster a sense of belonging in them from multiple levels and angles.

Joanna’s Journey

Luke: What are some of the key things to get right when embedding a sense of inclusion and belonging across an entire institution?

There’s no one-size-fits-all. We’ve got all types of different students. LTU was established back in the 1960s as a deliberate counterpoint to what we call in Australia the ‘sandstone universities’, the stuffy old guard. We were hip and New Age, and our ethos — which we still carry with us today — was about university for all, equity of access, and providing the opportunities for higher education (HE) for people who may not have had that natural trajectory otherwise. We’re very proud to support first-in-family, Indigenous and First Nations students, students from rural areas who may not otherwise make it to the big city to study, and also international students. Most of them come from South Asia and China but increasingly from Southeast Asia as well. Inclusion is about the campus environment but also about the way we as staff, as a university, and as a community connect and communicate with our student cohorts. This is an ever-present challenge. 

One of the things I spoke about recently at a conference was this connection, particularly between our international and domestic students. How do you bring them together in the classroom so they have that really rich experience? One of the things we’re quite fortunate about is that we’re the largest physical campus in the Southern Hemisphere. So big we have our own bus service! We have lots of parklands, a wildlife sanctuary…but that also presents a challenge because it’s so spread out, so the people are as well. We had a meeting recently about fostering belonging and unpacking what that means. Does it mean belonging to your course, your discipline, your cohort? Belonging to Australia? Belonging to the physical campus? Belonging to an identity around education? Is it a cultural belonging? Discipline? I think it’s all those things. Our role as HE providers is to foster that.

Luke: How do you best get students to engage when it comes to these topics?

It’s difficult to engage young people. Universities can be quite stuffy environments. Very bureaucratic, solid, and dense, and that can be at odds with supporting new, young people coming through who are much more agile, innovative, and embrace technology at a rate that universities, as a general rule, don’t. We’re structured and formal in how we operate and communicate, but young people write in text speak. I think it’s about finding that connection point, which can be difficult. Some students still want snail mail, some want an email, some want a phone call, some want an SMS, some just want to be left alone. We just try to do it all, throw everything at it and hope that it sticks. I went to a conference a few years ago where a university had done research on the most effective communication mechanisms for students and the finding was there is none! It’s as diverse as our student population. Throw in international students with different communication styles depending on the country they’re from, and it gets even more complex! 

Luke: How do you address issues of student safety and harassment on campus?

We have compulsory modules for students, a new one of which is on respectful behaviours and student safety. That’s one part of our approach to normalise it, saying ‘Part of who you are as a young person is understanding what it means to be a responsible citizen’. At the same time, we’ve bolstered our reporting and support services, and our training and support for staff. So we’re tackling it from all sides: awareness, behaviour change, reporting, support services. Another challenge is differing cultural norms from the places our various international students are from, so we make it compulsory for international students to attend a session on keeping yourself safe in Australia specifically as well as what’s appropriate in our culture and how to understand our norms. It must be so overwhelming to come here, especially if you’re from a conservative country. We want to help them understand how to make sense of that. And we have a legislative obligation to do that as well. 

Luke: How do you best go about keeping the people at LTU open to new ideas and buying into new ways of looking at things?

I talk to my leadership team a lot about being comfortable in the grey and not needing to know all the answers all the time. That’s something that’s come out of COVID, when the world was just turned upside down, and everyone talked about the need to pivot. It’s become the new norm. Last Friday, I ran a training session for a bunch of teams on flexibility and adaptability, because that’s the capability workforces and universities need more than ever. I joke about getting a t-shirt made that says ‘There must be a workaround for that!’ You have to find that resilience to keep going, find new ways of doing things, and respond to those external and internal challenges. You don’t have to know it all. You just have to ride that wave, come out the other side, ask the important questions, and be okay with it not always being okay.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Luke James
Luke works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in our professional services markets. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.