“People said I couldn’t be an engineer,” says Eleanor Baum. “It just wasn’t something that women did.” But as early as grade school, Baum excelled at math and science. She loved thinking about how things worked. She had an engineer’s soul, and she decided becoming one would be her life’s one great rebellion.
But getting a higher degree—and a job in the aerospace industry—wasn’t the end of Baum’s story. She was determined to diversify engineering, and open the STEM fields to women. That’s why she returned to academia, where she fought uphill against sexism to become the first-ever female dean of an engineering school, at Pratt Institute. Three years later, Cooper Union stole her away, and that’s where she left her biggest mark.
When Baum became dean at The Cooper Union Albert Nerken School of Engineering, 17 percent of the school’s student body was female. Under her direction, that number increased to 30 percent. She helped change the way engineering is taught, insisting on hands-on, project-based learning to better prepare young engineers. Her list of accolades is long, but her 2007 induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame stands out. “You become an engineer because you want to change the conditions of society,” she says. And she has.