Eleanor K. Baum (born 1940) is an American electrical engineer and educator. In 1984, she became the first female dean of an engineering school in the United States.
Baum's parents left Europe during the Holocaust. She is their only child. Her parents urged her to become an elementary schoolteacher, or, as a secondary option, a high school math teacher . For weeks in her adolescence, they would hide articles with themes of "The Joys of Being a Schoolteacher" under her pillow. Baum considered herself "one of these really good kids", who did what they were told. As an only child, all of her parents’ hopes and dreams were centered on her, so she felt obligated to behave.
According to Baum, engineering was her 'big rebellion'. When she told her mother about her career choice, her mother gasped and immediately said, "You can’t do that. People will think you’re weird, and no one will marry you."
Baum attended Midtown High School in Brooklyn, New York. There, she excelled in advanced science and mathematics classes. Although there were a few other girls in her advanced chemistry classes, Baum was the only girl in her advanced physics and advanced mathematics classes. The boys wanted to become engineers. So that, in addition to her adolescent rebellion, influenced her to choose engineering.
Baum met resistance upon applying to engineering colleges. Her high school teachers were discouraging. The guidance counselor balked in the same way that her mother did. One of the engineering schools would not admit her because it did not have a sufficient ladies' room.
After the initial resistance, Baum was finally accepted to City College of New York. She graduated in 1958 as the only woman in her engineering class. Baum has commented: "Being the only girl in college classes was not wonderful... you become all women. If I don’t know something, then it’s All women can’t..." Privacy was also an issue; people were particularly interested in her grades.
In 1964, she earned her Ph.D from Polytechnic Institute of New York.
Baum is married to a physicist from Grumman, Paul Baum Ph.D. She hired a nanny to help her with childcare for eighteen years, until the children were grown. After Baum became a successful engineer, her parents became proud of her, but her in-laws remained mortified that a woman would work as an engineer. This embarrassment is a common sentiment in the United States prior to the women's movement.
Baum started her career in the aerospace industry. After graduating from City College of New York, she worked at the Sperry Rand Corporation and General Instrument Corporation. Baum maintained ties to industry through consulting.
In 1984, Baum was named Dean of Pratt Institute's School of Engineering, a distinctive role because it made her the "first woman dean" of an engineering school in the U.S.
In 1987, she became dean of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at Cooper Union, and is now Dean Emeritus.
Baum is a fellow of ABET, IEEE, SWE, and ASEE.
Baum is the first woman president of the ASEE. She has served as president of ABET. She has sat on the National Science Foundation's Engineering Advisory Board. She was involved with the Engineering Manpower Commission.
In 1988, the National Women's Hall of Fame presented Baum with the Emily Warren Roebling Award. In 1990, the Society of Women Engineers awarded her the SWE Upward Mobility Award. In 1996, Dr. Baum was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.