In 2007 she led a national study on behalf of the Engineering Professors’ Council and the then Engineering Technology Board on the costs of undergraduate engineering education which gained wide publicity. The study showed that there was increasing financial pressure on engineering university departments across the UK, with the pressure being redoubled by the need for departments to constantly innovate to ensure that what engineers are teaching is fully up to date with evolving technology and social and environmental needs.
For any girls at school who still think of Engineering as a solitary job working on heavy plant, she cites her own work over the past few days. “I’ve had a discussion with a surgeon about how an operation could be done using as mechanical device,” she said.
“Then I went away and talked to other people about how to make this work in the confined space of a particular part of the human body. The following day I was working on a proposal to bid for some funding on how to improve body armour both for the police and for soldiers. That’s engineering at its best, applying creativity to something that will make human life better.”
Speaking of her delight at being elected President of the EPC, Professor Atkinson commented: “I feel incredibly honoured and privileged to be elected to serve for two years as President of the EPC at a critical time for engineering in higher education in the UK.”
The out-going President, Professor Barry Clarke of the University of Leeds commented: “I am very pleased to be passing on the baton of leading the Engineering Professors Council to Professor Helen Atkinson. Not only will she be the first women President since the EPC was formed over fifty years ago, but Helen is also an eminent engineer who has shown through her work in a variety of sectors that she is true leader of engineering and that leadership is essential in these challenging times.”
Membership of the EPC is open to Engineering Professors and Heads of Engineering Departments in all UK Universities. All branches of engineering are represented within the membership. There are currently over 1400 members in nearly 90 universities and university institutions (virtually all universities which teach engineering are represented). Professor Atkinson will take over from Professor Barry Clarke as President at the Congress in April 2011 and will hold the post for two years.