New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on April 7 that he is appointing Columbia University civil-environmental engineering and computer science professor Feniosky Peña-Mora, who also had been engineering school dean, as commissioner of the city's Dept. of Design and Construction (DDC).

Photo Courtesy of Columbia University
Pena-Mora is civil engineering researcher and former Columbia U. engineering dean.

DDC is the city's capital construction project manager, with a staff of nearly 1,200 and a $10 billion portfolio, says its website.

According to a press release from the mayor’s office, “Dr. Peña-Mora will be charged with building public works big and small, ranging from making streets safer as part of the Vision Zero initiative, to renovating and constructing municipal facilities.”

Peña-Mora is also the founding partner of Peña-Alcántara Consultants Inc., a firm specializing in the use of information technology and construction management techniques in infrastructure projects. His research focuses include developing information technology support for collaboration in preparedness, response, and recovery during disasters such as the 9-11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina, according to Columbia.

He is also a leader in change management, conflict resolution, sustainable construction, and processes integration during the design and development of large-scale civil engineering systems, it said.

“We will strengthen resiliency, efficiency, and safety in every project we oversee," said Peña-Mora in a statement. "We hope to build a new generation of streets, public works, and buildings that weave our diverse communities closer together and enrich the great fabric of our extraordinary city.”

Peña-Mora, a native of the Dominican Republic who immigrated to the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in 1988, joined Columbia in 2009, first as dean of its Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. But he could not survive faculty opposition to his administration, and stepped down from the role three years later.

The new dean had become popular with students, alumni and the school's outside community for raising the school’s rankings, profile and millions in donations since being recruited to campus.
But faculty raised a raft of issues, ranging from his handling of the school’s space crunch to use of teaching assistants to his “managerial style.”

“Criticism of a leader bringing about change can be expected, particularly, I suppose, when the person is an outsider both institutionally and in other ways,” said Peña-Mora at the time.

Peña-Mora noted that under his watch, the school has improved both its graduate and undergraduate published rankings, boosted applications by 45% at the undergrad level and twice that rate for grad students.

Weidlinger Associates CEO Raymond Daddazio, a three-degree Columbia alumnus and then chairman of the school's advisory committee, said Peña-More “found funds for 20 new endowed chairs.”

“We are delighted that Professor Peña-Mora has been tapped by New York City for this important and influential post,” said Mary C. Boyce, current engineering dean, in a statement.

The new commissioner also had previously been associate provost and an endowed engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He is the author or co-author of more than 200 scholarly publications and holds five patents, one pending patent, and one provisional patent.