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University of Chester professor is a 'trowelblazer' for ground-breaking women in science

Prof Cynthia Burek is taking part in the Raising Horizons exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum

Professor Cynthia Burek as Dr Catherine Raisin

A University of Chester professor has been chosen to feature as one of 14 female ‘trowelblazers’ in a national touring exhibition celebrating women in science.

The trowelblazers are all women who have been chosen for their pioneering work in the field of archaeology, palaeontology and geology. They are all connected through their domain of expertise.

The concept is a creative collaboration between photographer Leonora Saunders and TrowelBlazers, run by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Brenna Hassett, Suzanne Pilaar Birch and Victoria Herridge (three archaeologists and one palaeobiologist).

Their aim was to raise the profile of women in similar fields, both past and present.

The Raising Horizons exhibition has already featured at the Geological Society in London, as well as at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair.

As a result of a partnership between Big Heritage and the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, it can be seen at the Grosvenor Museum until June 4.

Through the project, Professor Cynthia Burek, who is the world’s first professor of geoconservation, has been paired up with the late 19th century/early 20th century geologist, Dr Catherine Raisin.

Dr Raisin came from a humble background and, through education, worked her way to a senior academic career. She marked a number of firsts in her life.

Not only was she the first woman to study geology at the University College of London (in 1875) and the first to gain a geology degree there, she was then the first woman in Britain to become academic head of a geology department, and the first female vice-principal of a college (Bedford College, University of London).

Dr Raisin was also one of the first women to become a Fellow of the Geological Society and the second woman ever to receive a Doctor of Science qualification. Throughout her life, she was committed to advancing women’s education.

When she was 25, she founded The Somerville Club for intellectual women and was known to be financially generous, providing others’ pay out of her own pocket.

Dr Catherine Raisin is pictured top right

Professor Burek, who lives in Holt, also came from a humble background and has also had an academic career that has been distinguished and ground-breaking .

She was the first non-Catholic head girl of Our Lady’s Convent High School for Girls in Hackney (East London) and the first person to study geology, geography and archaeology as a combined undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester in 1970.

With her academic interests in geology, ecology and the environment, Cynthia is the world’s first professor of geoconservation.

At the University of Chester, she is the deputy director of the Centre for Science Communication and headed the university’s environmental task force for 11 years between 2000 and 2011. She also currently supervises three PhD students.

She is involved in a number of large organisations and projects and works tirelessly to raise the profile of girls’ and women’s education on the international stage.

She is a director of the British Federation of Women Graduates - formerly known as the British Federation of University Women - and is chair of the International Fellowships Committee at the Graduate Women’s International (GWI) conference, all aimed at empowering women through education.

She is a director of the UNESCO recognised GeoMôn (Anglesey) Geopark, as well as being academically involved with the Heritage Lottery Funded project Saltscape in Cheshire.

Like Dr Raisin before her, she is also a Fellow of the Geological Society.

Cynthia said: “Not only am I honoured to be recognised as a ‘trowelblazer’, I am also extremely pleased to be linked with such an outstanding female academic and someone who is one of my personal heroines.

“In an obituary about her, Catherine Raisin was summed up as ‘not only a stimulating and enthusiastic teacher, who worked ungrudgingly to promote their interests, but also as a generous, brave and sympathetic woman whom they loved’. What better tribute can a woman have? For me to be associated with her through this project is indeed a privilege.”

Further information about Professor Burek and Dr Raisin can be found at: http://trowelblazers.com/raising-horizons-bedrocks-of-equality/

Project information, tour dates and the other portraits can be found at: http://raisinghorizons.co.uk

To find out more about the exhibition in Chester, please visit: http://events.westcheshiremuseums.co.uk/venue/grosvenor-museum/

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