HERDSA Heroes in Higher Education Award

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HERDSA Heroes in Higher Education Award (2021)

This award seeks to recognise the generosity of a colleague or team of colleagues, who have supported others in an unexpected/exceptional way during the COVID-19 pandemic. This academic generosity may be in the areas of research, teaching, service, or academic development. The generosity received may be something “tangible” (e.g., outstanding support with shifting to online teaching and learning), or more “intangible” (e.g., helping you to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness in a time of isolation).

Criteria for the award

  • Clarity of description of the act of generosity
  • Convincing evidence provided to support description of ways in which the nominee went beyond expectations
  • Reflective consideration of the effect/impact of this generosity


A total of 16 nominations were received from across the HERDSA community. Eligible nominees were teachers, researchers, academic developers, learning designers, students, and others working in the field of tertiary education. Nominees did not need to be HERDSA members but were nominated by a HERDSA member.  The HERDSA Heroes will each receive a certificate and $500 to thank them for their generosity in challenging times.

The reviewers had a challenging time to select the 5 HERDSA Heroes from the nominations.

HERDSA Heroes in Higher Education awards for 2021 are awards to

Dr Jane Coffey, Curtin University,

Dr Sarah Hattam, University of South Australia

Dr Michael Mehmet, University of Wollongong

Olivia Rajit, University of Technology, Sydney

Associate Professor Cate Thomas, Charles Sturt University,

You can read more about each of the Heroes below. 

Dr Jane Coffey, Curtin University, nominated by Hannah Wilkinson

Hannah said that Jane’s energy never failed, or her passion never wavered while her new unit in Strategic Career Design was launched in 2020 in very different circumstances to what was planned.  The first semester of the unit in 2020 unit had over 2000 students enrolled across multiple locations and modes of study. Over 2020-21, it was offered via eight different over-lapping, study periods with Jane managing a teaching team of 30+ colleagues and negotiating stakeholders from across the university to maintain offerings that could be utilised in the Career Passport which provided meaningful connections to over 4500+ students in their critical first year.


Dr Sarah Hattam, University of South Australia, nominated by Tanya Weiler

Tanya describes Sarah Hattam as a generous, collegial and dedicated academic, consistently supportive of both staff and students with whom she works alongside. Her passion for critical pedagogies and social justice is evident in her teaching and research. Sarah worked consistently to build and maintain connections between academics and professional staff and to ensure that students in our enabling programs were supported, encouraged to continue with their studies, and felt a strong sense of belonging to university despite not being on campus. This sense of collegiality was also extended across the HERDSA SA Branch and the sector more broadly as she was fundamental in organising the HERDSA webinar throughout 2020.


Dr Michael Mehmet, Faculty of Business, University of Wollongong received 2 nominations – one from Associate Professor Ann Rogerson and another from Dr Celeste Rossetto

Both nominators said Michael’s skills in the area of online teaching, digital business and pedagogy were extended further for the benefit of his own students to ensure they received a quality and engaged learning experience.  At the same time, he generously supported a large number of colleagues to develop their online resources and teaching methodologies. He inspires colleagues to improve their own teaching with his generosity and collegial spirit not wavering throughout the past 18 months.


Olivia Rajit, University of Technology, Sydney, nominated by Professor Susan Page

Susan nominated Olivia Rajit for her extraordinary work to support the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences response, which had few online offerings and many staff unfamiliar with fully online learning. Olivia’s skill, patience and optimism was the lynchpin of the faculty’s successful response to the pandemic, simultaneously shifting a subject to a new learning platform, and supporting all academics in the faculty to shift to online delivery in a week.


Associate Professor Cate Thomas, Faculty of Science, Charles Sturt University, nominated by Dr Prue Gonzalez.

Prue said Cate provided inspirational leadership, generosity, and kindness as she led quality and teams in a time of disruption through reimagining her role to become a powerful anchor building mutual trust and respect with more than 500 staff and 9000 students distributed across five campus locations and also working remotely. Cate demonstrates a genuine dedication, commitment and drive to assist not just students on their life-long learning journey, but to also assist staff in their professional growth, development and engagement in a community of practice. Her leadership role as Associate Dean Academic has been invaluable in improving learning and teaching practices in the Faculty, promoting the scholarship of learning and teaching, and also building a collegial environment across a distributed and disrupted landscape.