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Dean Jelena Kovačević discusses the changing face of engineering

three female engineering deans

Left to right: NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević, Dean Gilda Barabino of the City College of New York Grove School of Engineering, and Dean Mary Cunningham Boyce of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science 

When the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) hosted a March 11 panel on the changing face of engineering, it was readily apparent that the face to which they were referring is, more and more, a female one.

The panel, moderated by Google Chief Information Officer Ben Fried, was assembled in recognition of the fact that for the first time in history, three women are simultaneously leading the schools of engineering at three of New York City’s highly regarded universities, and it included NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević, Dean Gilda Barabino of the City College of New York Grove School of Engineering, and Dean Mary Cunningham Boyce of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Relating that in a recent survey, more than 80 percent of female job-seekers asserted a desire to be affiliated with companies working to improve the world, Fried steered the conversation to the ways in which engineering can be a catalyst for social good.

ABNY panel

Dean Kovačević explained that Tandon has long been dedicated to creating useful technology that makes a positive impact. “All of us are lucky that we have New York City as a test bed and can see the practical, tangible results of our work,” she maintained, saying that Tandon researchers are working to reduce noise pollution, improve transportation systems, increase access to high-speed mobile communications, and a host of other projects aimed at making the City more livable, cleaner, and better connected.

Applauding the fact that increasing numbers of female students are flocking to the city’s engineering schools in order to pursue important, mission-driven careers, she related the tale of Eleanor Baum. A 1964 alum who went on to become the first female dean of a U.S. engineering school, Baum once asserted that the worst thing about being the only woman in some of her engineering classes was that any time she got something wrong it was considered to reflect poorly on all women. “As a woman, you shouldn’t have to constantly defy stereotypes or feel that you must always be absolutely remarkable,” Dean Kovačević concluded. “It should be enough to just be a good engineer.”