Research Professor Anu Castaneda of Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare is Faculty of Medicine Alum of the Year 2024

Research Professor Anu Castaneda of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare is the Faculty of Medicine’s 2024 Alum of the Year. The award winner was announced at the Faculty’s anniversary celebration on 31 January 2024.

The University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Medicine has granted an award for its Alum of the Year since 2011. Nominations have been accepted for University alumni who have contributed significantly to society and, thus, promoted public engagement in the Faculty fields.

The 2024 Alum of the Year is Research Professor Anu Castaneda. She began to study psychology at the University of Helsinki in 2001. After completing her Master's degree, she pursued licentiate and doctoral degrees, eventually obtaining a psychotherapist qualification as well. Although Castaneda has always identified strongly with the University, she expects that the recognition will further strengthen her sense of belonging to the institution.

– I’m incredibly grateful and honoured to receive this award. I hold the University of Helsinki and its Faculty of Medicine in high esteem, and respect many previous alumni of the year, such as my former supervisor Jouko Lönnqvist. When I found out about the award, my first thought was, ‘does this mean I’m one of them now?’, she says.

Castaneda stresses how proud she feels as an alum to represent the Faculty discipline of psychology and how much she values the Faculty’s multidisciplinary nature. She considers the Faculty a natural fit for the discipline of psychology and hopes the multidisciplinary environment provides a good basis for the graduates’ mutually supportive roles and mutual appreciation.


After a 20-year career at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Castaneda currently works there as a research professor and leader of the Migration and Cultural Diversity team. She is also involved in several ministry groups exploring, in particular, issues of integration and racism. Her work has shed light on the experiences of persons who have moved to Finland from other countries as well as Finnish ethnic minorities, and informed public debate and policy development.

Castaneda is enthusiastic about making an impact through her work. Even though the efforts of a single person are just a drop in the ocean, all such drops add up, allowing us to influence the development of social systems, services and structures. Castaneda received the Alum of the Year award in recognition of her exceptional commitment to public engagement. She is praised both within and outside her community for significantly increasing understanding of cultural diversity, discrimination, mental health and integration in Finland.

– It really feels like I've been able to help make the world a better place. That experience of doing meaningful work is so valuable and inspiring, notes Castaneda.

She also underlines the importance of an inspiring work community. The support and encouragement of her own organisation as well as her colleagues’ confidence in what she is doing serve as the cornerstone and inspiration for her work.


At its best, the alumni network can be an important source of support for both students and future professionals embarking on their careers. The example set by more established practitioners can inspire, but it can also create expectations. Castaneda encourages everyone to think big and work actively for the change they want to see in the world – but not at the expense of personal wellbeing.

– Students have such high expectations put on their shoulders. The emphasis everywhere seems to be on achievement and success, even at the expense of personal wellbeing. It’s not a sustainable way to live, but a lose–lose situation, she says.

Castaneda emphasises that even if our mission is to transform the world in a major way, we must make the process sustainable for ourselves. Every day should be filled with not just work and transformation, but also moments of happiness, pleasure and recovery as well as the company of those we hold dear. Focusing on her personal resources has allowed Castaneda herself to combine her scholarly expertise and experience with wider public engagement.

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