Feniosky Peña-Mora, Sc.D., P.E., NAS, CCM, F.CIOB, NAC, Dist.M.ASCE, will be inducted as ASCE 2024 president-elect next month during the ASCE 2023 Convention in Chicago.
It’s a role he’s well-prepared for. His resume speaks for itself. The Dominican-born engineer and educator is the former commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction. Peña-Mora now serves as dean of engineering and science at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, following previous posts at Columbia University, the University of Illinois, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But now ASCE members have the chance to learn more about their soon-to-be president-elect. His favorite song; his favorite food – the important stuff. It’s time to get to know Feniosky Peña-Mora:
Civil Engineering Source: Of what are you most proud of in your career?
Feniosky Peña-Mora: I am most proud of my work in engineering education. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many talented students and colleagues, and I am proud of the contributions that we have made to the field.
Source: Favorite book?
Peña-Mora: I enjoy reading books on a wide range of topics, but one of my favorites is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
Source: Are you a cat person or a dog person?
Peña-Mora: I am definitely a dog person. I have always loved dogs and have had a couple in my younger years.
Source: Favorite food?
Peña-Mora: I enjoy many different types of food, but if I had to choose one favorite, it would probably be Dominican-style pernil with moro con guandules.
Source: Favorite sports team?
Peña-Mora: I am not a big sports fan, so I don’t really have a favorite team, but I admire the determination and accomplishments of teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, New England Patriots, and Manchester United.
Source: What was your hometown like?
Peña-Mora: I grew up in Santo Domingo, which is the capital city of the Dominican Republic. It is a vibrant and bustling city with a rich history and culture.
Source: Do you play any musical instruments?
Peña-Mora: I always wanted to learn piano, but I don’t play any musical instruments. However, I do enjoy listening to music.
Source: What initially sparked your interest in civil engineering?
Peña-Mora: When I was younger, I always aspired to become a civil engineer. Growing up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the city embodied a blend of old-world charm and emerging developments that completely captured my attention. On one side stood the colonial city, the first European settlement in America, established in 1496. Right at its edges, a bustling urban landscape unfolded, showcasing the chaos and beauty made possible by the infrastructure crafted by civil engineers. The contrast between the old and the new proved to be intensely captivating.
The historic structures held tales of the past, while the recent advancements foretold our present and future. I found myself in awe of how engineers skillfully intertwined these elements, creating a tapestry that interwove history with modernity. I harbored a constant desire to be a part of this transformation, learning from the past to shape a better future for all who traversed those very streets.
Source: At the end of a long workday, how do you relax?
Peña-Mora: I like to spend time with my family and friends. We might go out to dinner or watch a movie together.
Source: What was the last movie you watched?
Peña-Mora: The most recent movie I watched was Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant.” I was drawn to its message of providing second chances, earning trust, speaking out, following one’s convictions, and keeping promises.
Source: What’s your favorite civil engineering landmark?
Peña-Mora: There are so many amazing civil engineering landmarks around the world, but if I had to choose my favorites, they would probably be the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, Croton Water Supply System in New York, First New York Subway, Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Terminal, Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Panama Canal, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Petra in Jordan, and Sydney Opera House.
Source: Go-to pizza topping?
Peña-Mora: My go-to pizza toppings are Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, green papers, onions, and banana peppers.
Source: What’s the word you use the most?
Peña-Mora: I think the word I use the most is “interesting.”
Source: When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Peña-Mora: I have always been interested in building things, and civil engineering seemed like a natural fit for me. I was drawn to the field because it involves using our intellect to solve real-world problems that will positively impact people’s lives.
Source: Ideal vacation spot?
Peña-Mora: My ideal vacation spot is anywhere with beautiful beaches and warm weather. I love spending time near the ocean.
Source: If you could only keep one streaming service subscription, what would it be?
Peña-Mora: If I could only keep one streaming service subscription, it would probably be Netflix. There are so many great shows and movies available on Netflix.
Source: What’s your favorite time of day?
Peña-Mora: My favorite time of the day is the morning, when I relish beginning my day by collecting my thoughts, preparing for the hours ahead, and catching up on the latest happenings worldwide. This tranquil routine sets a positive tone for the rest of my day.
Source: What’s one thing ASCE members would be surprised to learn about you?
Peña-Mora: I possess a highly multidisciplinary background encompassing not only engineering and construction management but also organizational behavior and computer science. This diverse range of expertise has empowered me to approach intricate infrastructure and urban development projects from a distinctive vantage point, combining various fields to tackle challenges and generate inventive solutions.
All my children, one son and two daughters, have studied at MIT and are engineers. My son earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia and holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering from MIT. My oldest daughter earned a bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering from MIT and is in her fourth year of pursuing a Ph.D. also in materials science and engineering at Stanford. My youngest daughter earned a bachelor's degree in biological engineering from MIT and is beginning her Ph.D. in neuroscience and biological engineering at Yale.
Additionally, my career journey comprises several notable firsts. I was the first Latino to assume the role of associate provost at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the first Latino dean of engineering at Columbia University, the first Latino commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction, and currently, I hold the esteemed distinction of being the first Latino president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers. These attainments underscore my unwavering commitment to shattering barriers and championing diversity in all my endeavors.
Source: What was your first car?
Peña-Mora: My first car was a light “Smurf-blue” Renault 5.
Source: What’s one thing on your bucket list?
Peña-Mora: One thing on my bucket list is to travel to every continent in the world. I am still missing Antarctica. Even though it is not a continent, I also would like to go to the Arctic.
Source: Favorite song?
Peña-Mora: One of my favorite songs is “Imagine” by John Lennon.
Source: When you spend time with family, what do you all like doing?
Peña-Mora: I find joy in spending quality time with my family, relishing their company while engaging in various activities. We often watch movies together, explore the city on leisurely walks, visit local attractions, and indulge in savory BBQ gatherings.
Source: What’s the most challenging project you have ever worked on?
Peña-Mora: One of the most formidable undertakings I've ever been a part of was the completion of the Times Square project in 2016. This endeavor demanded that we navigate challenging circumstances and devise inventive solutions to intricate issues encompassing infrastructure enhancement, adaptability of public spaces, community engagement, pedestrian flow, uninterrupted business operations, and the preservation of historical and cultural significance.
Source: If they made a movie about your life, what actor would play you?
Peña-Mora: I would love to have Lin-Manuel Miranda play me in a movie. His versatile talent, connection to my home neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, and ability to capture the essence of the work ethic, motivation, perseverance, and grit of immigrants in their pursuit of a better life, as well as his commitment to racial and social justice, align perfectly with my story.
Source: What is the quality you admire most in someone?
Peña-Mora: The quality that I admire most in someone is resilience. Life can be difficult at times, but people who are resilient are able to bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward.
Learn more about the ASCE 2023 Convention.
Read how incoming 2024 President Marsia Geldert-Murphey responded to the same “get to know you” questions last year.