The Big Heart award 2024 goes to Heidi Kuusniemi and Sanna Kotajärvi-Söderholm

The Director of Digital Economy Heidi Kuusniemi and the Head of Study Services Sanna Kotajärvi-Söderholm got the Big Heart award this year. The Big Heart award is an equality award given by the University of Vaasa. The award was given on 14 February at a Valentine's Day event for the whole university.

In the award criteria, Heidi Kuusniemi was described as a director who encourages everyone, especially the shy ones, to get involved, regardless of gender, nationality, or background. She treats everyone with respect and consideration and makes all team members feel that they are important. Kuusniemi promotes equality in all areas in the unit she leads.

- It feels wonderful to receive this kind of acknowledgement from my colleagues, I am very grateful for their recognition – this really warms my heart. Winning the Big Heart Award means more than any academic award, as it is a recognition that my colleagues appreciate my contribution to the community. Cooperation and community at work is everything to me. Equality and equity are a driving force for wellbeing and productivity at work - no one leaves a friend behind, and we move forward together, helping each other at work. No barriers or silos, but the whole working community working together - that's the best way to get things done, says Kuusniemi.

Sanna Kotajärvi-Söderholm was described in the award criteria as an open and firm manager who takes different perspectives into account. She knows how to meet individuals exactly as they are. Kotajärvi-Söderholm is fair and just to all members of the community and treats everyone equally. Kotajärvi-Söderholm says that she strives daily to consider equality and equity in her work as a supervisor and as a head of study services. 

- It is an honour to receive the Big Heart Award at the University of Vaasa - a university with a big heart and community as a value and a vision that emphasises education based on equality and community. As a university, we are bound by equality laws, and although their requirements ought to be self-evident and we have already come far in many areas in Finland, we still have a long way to go.  Equal treatment of students and applicants is one of the pillars of our operations in study and education services. Treating people equally and with kindness, both students and staff members, is also, I believe, key to wellbeing as well as building a sense of community and, therefore, important in our university community every day. Often, it is about the little things and being considerate, says Kotajärvi-Söderholm.

This is the sixth time that the annual University of Vaasa Big Heart equality award was given. The Big Heart award may be given to a person or a group that has promoted equality in the university community. The award is given by the equality and non-discrimination working group according to nominations presented by the university community. Any member of the university community may nominate a member of the university community or a person or group from outside the community whose activities are closely tied to the university. There were 40 nominations in total this year. The winners were decided by the University of Vaasa equality and non-discrimination working group.

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