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University of Strathclyde launches consultation to name flagship building after inspirational women

Image of a glass fronted building

The University of Strathclyde has launched a consultation for staff and students to vote on naming the two wings of a new £60 million building from a shortlist of inspirational women.

The flagship Learning and Teaching building will bring the University’s student support services under one roof for the first time, provide leading-edge learning technology and facilities for students, and create a brand-new home for the students’ union.

Author and poet Professor Jackie Kay, astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the late biologist and botanist Professor Blodwen Binns, the University’s first female professor and head of department, the late Mary Dunn and the late Victorian philanthropist Isabella Elder, have been shortlisted for selection by a specially convened group of staff and students.

Diverse community

The University has set out to ensure the Learning & Teaching hub, which forms part of a wider £1 billion campus investment, will be reflective of the diverse and vibrant community it serves.

The University’s staff and students are being invited to choose who to honour with an option to vote for their preferred person for each of the building’s two wings.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Sir Jim McDonald said: "We are in the final stages of realising our new flagship Learning and Teaching building in the heart of our campus which offers us a great opportunity to reflect on our Values and introduce diverse and inclusive naming of the building.

“Historically, there have been no buildings on campus named after women or indeed, that reflect the fantastic diversity of our University community. We are now taking steps to remedy this.

"The new Learning and Teaching building represents our largest single investment in a building to date and it will be an inspiring and welcoming space for our talented student community. It is fitting that it will be named from a shortlist of terrific women who have made an incredible impact on the world around them.”

In drawing together a shortlist, a group of students and staff were asked to collate names of individuals with an association: with Strathclyde as a university or any of its previous incarnations stretching back to 1796; to the city of Glasgow or to Scotland; or any other relevant connection to Strathclyde as a socially progressive, leading international technological university; and our founding mission as the 'Place of Useful Learning'.

The design of the building will honour two people, with the two names for the 'North Wing' and 'South Wing' of the new facility, which brings together the Architecture and Colville buildings.

Learning village

The concept of the glass-fronted facility involved Strathclyde’s students and staff and the Learning and Teaching building is based in the heart of the campus, where it is flooded with natural light and views over the University’s gardens.

Woman posing with honorary degree

In addition to creating new facilities for student wellbeing and support services, it hosts: a learning village, complete with three new lecture theatres, study and social spaces; a brand-new Students’ Union with stunning sporting and music events space plus accommodation to support more than 100 clubs and societies; bars, bistros and coffee areas; a new dedicated home for the Strathclyde Doctoral School; and, a plaza for outdoor events. The new development will also meet the needs of the student population as it grows in size and diversity.

Inspirational shortlist

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist who was overlooked for a Nobel prize in favour of her male collaborators when as a 24-year-old PhD student she discovered a new type of star known as a pulsar. She has subsequently worked in gamma ray, X-ray infrared and millimetre wavelength astronomy and holds a Professorial Fellowship in Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

She was awarded the Michael Faraday Prize in 2010 and a Royal Medal in 2015 and in 2018 she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her work on pulsars. She donated the prize to the Institute of Physics to fund graduate scholarships for underrepresented groups. She was the first female President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as of the Institute of Physics and is an honorary graduate of the University of Strathclyde.

A woman smiling and holdig glasses

Professor Blodwen Binns, a Botanist, Bacteriologist & Biologist joined the staff of the Royal Technical College in 1926 and later completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow. She joined the Ministry of Labour, becoming successively Welfare Superintendent and Personnel Manager in the Training Scheme for Women in Engineering, and Woman Power Officer.

In 1944 she moved to the British Council in London to become Secretary of the Science Department and Deputy to the Director. She later became founder Chair of the Glasgow Film Society, Chair of the British Universities Film Council and Vice-President of the Andersonian Naturalists. In the 1960s she was offered a Visiting Professorship at the University of Malawi. She died in 1991 leaving a bequest to the Glasgow Natural History Society which funds an annual research prize and makes grants towards research projects.

Picture courtesy of University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections

Professor Mary Dunn was the University of Strathclyde’s first female professor & Head of Department. She gained an Economics degree from the University of Glasgow in 1955 and joined at the Scottish College of Commerce, where she was later appointed head of the Department of Secretarial Studies in 1962.

She became Director of the new Centre for Secretarial Studies created in 1969, the first female Head of Department at Strathclyde and went on to become the University’s first female Professor in 1975. She died in December 1992.

Isabella Elder was a philanthropist who made gifts towards education and community. After her husband John’s death in 1869 she took over the management of his shipbuilding company before concentrating on charitable work. In 1905 Mrs Elder gave an endowment of £5,000 for The David Elder Lecture series at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College.

This series continues today, run by the University in partnership with the Glasgow Science Centre. She also gave £5,000 towards the creation of a Chair of Civil Engineering, and £12,500 to create the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture – both at the University of Glasgow. She also donated a building to Queen Margaret College at which a women’s Medical School was formed and most famously created Elder Park in Govan.

'Picture courtesy of University of Salford Press Office

Professor Jackie Kay CBE is an author and poet who has written extensively for stage, screen and for children. Her first book of poetry, The Adoption Papers, won numerous awards including the Saltire Society Award for best first book in 1992.

Her debut novel, Trumpet, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1998 and in 2011 she won the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Award (Non-Fiction) for her memoir Red Dust Road.

She was appointed Chancellor of Salford University in 2015 in addition to a role as the University's writer-in-residence and was awarded an MBE in 2006 and a CBE in 2020, both for services to literature. In 2016 she was appointed the new Scots Makar and holds honorary degrees from a number of universities.