year Miriam’s Cup honors Eleanor K. Baum, the daughter
of Holocaust survivors and the first woman dean of an engineering
after Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor was born in 1940 to Salamon
and Niuta Kiszelewicz in Vilnius at the outbreak of World
War II. Her parents fled in the middle of the night with
forged documents and hidden jewelry, traveling first to
Japan, where they arranged passage on the last refugee ship
to leave. They lived in Canada, but eventually settled in
Eleanor was in high school in the 1950s, it was a simple
world with definitive society expectations for a woman’s
role. Women became secretaries, or, if they went to college,
a teacher or a nurse. But Eleanor liked science and math
classes and realized one day that many guys in her classes
wanted to study engineering. She had no idea what engineers
did, but one day when her mother was annoying her she rebelled
and announced that she was going to major in engineering.
“You can’t do that,” said her mother.
“People will think you’re weird and no one will
marry you!” Likewise, when she told her high school
guidance counselor that she was thinking about studying
engineering, she got a similar negative response.
Eleanor persevered and applied to engineering schools. One
of them didn’t even bother to send her a rejection
letter; they called her on the phone to explain that they
could not accept her because they did not have a ladies’
restroom! She did go to engineering school at City College
in New York, where she was the only woman in the class.
The biggest challenge was that, to her professors, she represented
all women. If she didn’t know the answer or she had
difficulty with a task, they would make comments about how
ill-suited women were to become engineers.
college, Eleanor first worked in the aeronautical industry,
but was bored and returned to graduate school at the Brooklyn
Polytechnic Institute. While in graduate school, Eleanor
married physicist Paul Baum. They have two daughters: Elizabeth
and Jennifer. She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering
in 1964, with applause as the very pregnant Eleanor walked
across the stage to accept her diploma.
joined the faculty of the engineering department at the
Pratt Institute, becoming the chair of the department, then
its dean in 1984, the first woman dean of a U.S. engineering
school. In 1989, she has been the dean of the Cooper Union
College of Engineering. She had held leadership roles in
numerous professional associations; for example, she is
the first female president of the American Society for Engineering
Education (ASEE), has served as president of the Accreditation
Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and has sat
on the National Science Foundation's Engineering Advisory
Board. She also serves on the board of directors for many
corporations, including Avnet and Allegheny Energy.
Baum has received many awards from universities and professional
societies, and has been awarded honorary doctorates by 4
colleges. She was inducted into the Women in Technology
International Hall of Fame in 1966 and the National Women’s
Hall of Fame in 2007.
her career, Eleanor has had a passionate commitment to bring
more women into the engineering profession. She spends a
lot of time talking to high school groups, parents, and
guidance counselors to give them a clear picture of the
engineering profession and to project a positive role model
for women. In her first 12 years at Cooper Union Engineering
School, she has increased the female engineering enrollment
from 5% to 38%.
believes that women must have the both the vision as well
as the opportunity to maximize their potential and to find
their life’s work. “The trick is not to lose
sight of your dream,” says Eleanor. “Hard work
and dedication will help you overcome any obstacle. But
remember, you are your own best judge of what you can do.”