Professor Helen Atkinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing at Cranfield University, is one of 60 women to feature in an exhibition at The Higgins art gallery and museum in Bedford. 

The exhibition marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act which allowed some women to vote for the first time. Running until late September, it reflects on the achievements of women in Bedfordshire in those 100 years. 


Those featured were nominated, researched, shortlisted and selected by an exhibition development panel made up of volunteers from the local community. 

Professor Atkinson said: "I feel extremely proud to be recognised in this way. The women featured in the exhibition represent many different facets of life. I was fascinated to discover one of the first female commercial airline pilots came from Bedfordshire."

Accompanying each display is an artefact, Helen's choice being a small model aeroplane. Here she explains why: "The model was given to me by an engineering student who I was academic tutor for, as a gesture of thanks for my support. This student had come to the UK from Sri Lanka to study and during his studies the tsunami hit his home country.

“The family business was destroyed and, as his family had made the commitment to pay his university fees, he was left in difficult circumstances. He received support from a variety of charitable sources to help but had to work hard doing a part-time job on top of his studies. He graduated with a first-class degree. For me, this little aeroplane symbolises the high esteem in which a UK university education is held across the world and the utter dedication of this student to achieving his goal."

Helen was made CBE in the Queens New Year’s Honours 2014 for services to engineering and education. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2007, the highest honour for an engineer in the UK. At the time, she was one of only 29 female fellows alongside 1,400 men. She was the first woman President of the Engineering Professors’ Council (the body which represents engineering in universities throughout the UK) in its 50-year history and has also served as a Vice President and Trustee of the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

In 2010, she won a national award as a Woman of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology for ‘leadership and inspiration to others’.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.