Feniosky Peña-Mora learned English at Columbia University in New York City two decades ago as a newly arrived immigrant with an engineering degree from the Dominican Republic, where he grew up. Now, the 43-year-old is returning to the upper Manhattan campus, close to the heart of the city's Dominican community, taking over in July as dean of that Ivy League institution's School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Peña-Mora replaces interim dean Gerald Navratil and will assume a program with 164 faculty, close to 2,870 undergraduate and grad students and a research budget that totalled $87.2 million as of 2006-07, according to the school's website, www.engineering.columbia.edu. Undergraduate tuition and fees are $37,470 a year (not including room and board and other fees).
"I¹m very excited about Columbia," says Peña-Mora. "I had great respect for it when I was younger."
Columbia found Peña-Mora halfway across the country after a two-year search. He was a tenured professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and an associate provost involved in a host of campus-wide initiatives to encourage interdisciplinary research and learning, as well as student diversity and entrepreneurship. He had previously taught information technology and project management in the civil engineering department at Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT, from which he earned master's and doctoral degrees.
Peña-Mora's experience has also included overseas teaching stints and consulting work in information technology for Puerto Rico's Tren Urbano rail project and on the Boston Central Artery. His publishing interests range from IT support for emergency response collaboration to change management and conflict resolution on large projects. "He is a very progressive thinker," says Jeffrey Russell, dean of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Peña-Mora aims to build on Columbia's push for well-rounded engineering graduates and future industry leaders. "Most programs train students deep; Columbia trains broadly," he says.
The engineering school has tried to teach both engineering and entrepreneurship with curriculum linking them. Peña-Mora hopes to boost the engineering program's interraction with Columbia's other top departments, the communities around the school and other institutions around the world.
The school’s full name is the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. In 1997, the Fu Foundation, a charitable organization founded by a Taiwan-born philosophy scholar, gave the school a gift of $26 million.