Dr. Eleanor Baum was pushed by her mother to be an elementary school teacher, but in what she considered an act of rebellion, she decided to pursue a career in engineering.
Discouraged by those around her, as this was a thing women at the time simply didn’t do, she persevered and earned her degree in electrical engineering in 1958 as the only woman in her class. After college Baum accepted a position at an aerospace corporation but decided to return to school to earn a master’s degree.
Hired by a different aerospace firm she still struggled with sexism in the workplace stating that she was often mistaken as a secretary or seen as flirting with colleagues. Offered a fellowship she returned to Polytechnic Institute of New York to earn her doctorate which was awarded in 1964, less than a month before she gave birth to her first child. Nervous that while she took time off to be a mother the technology in her field would pass her by, she looked for ways to stay connected. Asked by her advisor to stay on and work for him at no pay, because she was after all married, she refused and went to the nearby Pratt Institute where she was hired as an assistant professor.
While at Pratt she became the first woman to be appointed as the dean of a school of engineering in the U.S. In 1987 she accepted a position at The Cooper Union, a private college in New York City, where she would serve as Dean of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering and Executive Director of the Cooper Union Research Foundation until her retirement.
While at the school she spent twenty years promoting engineering as a career path especially to women and minorities and became a vocal advocate for changing the stereotypical view of engineers as being white men. For her contributions in engineering she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 1996 and was also honored as an inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Written by Angela Goad