The Department of Engineering Systems and Environment’s talent pool just got deeper with the addition of three new faculty members for the 2020-2021 academic year. With their varying expertise in systems analysis, construction engineering and management, and water resources management, the Negin Alemazkoor, Diana Franco Duran and Majid Shafiee-Jood join a community of researchers and educators engaged in designing, managing and protecting the systems that people and society rely on to thrive.
Their arrival continues steady growth of the department, which is UVA’s home for systems, civil and environmental engineering. It has expanded by a total of 15 new faculty members since the 2018-2019 academic year – all leading to greater recruitment of sought-after graduate students, increased research funding and more modern curricular choices for students.
“I am thrilled to have Diana, Negin and Majid be part of our ESE family,” said professor and chair of the department Brian L. Smith. “They personify the collaborative spirit and whole-picture approaches to solving today’s engineering challenges that we’re building here. They also bring expertise to help us fulfill our vision— which is improving the technology underlying the systems we rely on as people and society. Our focus is making those systems work better for people they serve.”
Negin Alemazkoor joined the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment as an assistant professor from the School of Industrial Engineering at Purdue University, where she was a post-doctoral researcher. She earned her Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in the Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems program.
Alemazkoor received her B.S. from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and M.S. at Texas A&M University. She has won several fellowships and awards for research and teaching. She was one of 30 early-career women to attend the 2019 Rising Stars in Computational and Data Science Workshop at University of Texas Austin, and one of 20 women to attend the 2017 Rising Stars in Civil Engineering Workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Alemazkoor’s research aims to enhance the efficiency, reliability and resilience of infrastructure systems. She develops fast computational models of infrastructure systems, such as power and transportation, to reduce the large computing costs associated with performing the complex simulations required for analysis and decision-making regarding the system. She uses her models’ computational speed toward two main goals: 1) to more accurately account for uncertain factors that affect operation, and 2) handling the huge volume of data coming from ever-increasing sources of information, such as GPS and smart meters.
For example, she has used uncertainty quantification techniques to evaluate hurricane-induced power outage risk under uncertain climate-change scenarios, and proposed online traffic prediction models that can capture the changes in systems after a disaster to provide accurate post-disaster traffic predictions.
“The faster we can predict complex response of infrastructure systems after disasters, the better we can be prepared to manage abnormalities caused by the disasters,” Alemazkoor said. “My end goal is to develop methodologies that can be applied to different infrastructure systems.”
Alemazkoor’s expertise adds depth to engineering systems and environment’s research strengths in smart city technologies and intelligent decision and control systems, which focus on the latest systems modeling and data analytics tools, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and optimization, to make infrastructure work better. She is also affiliated with the Link Lab, UVA Engineering’s collaborative cyber-physical systems research incubator.
Diana Franco Duran
Assistant professor Diana Franco Duran joined engineering systems and environment in June as the founding director of the new construction engineering and management program. Duran is an expert in project scheduling and control, and has been recognized for her innovations in engineering education and teaching excellence.
Her research centers on teaching and learning, specifically evaluating the impact of contemporary pedagogy on enhancing students’ learning process; understanding how to promote effective learning environments that help students develop competencies for the construction industry; and assessment.
With department colleagues, Duran is building a consortium with industry partners and developing the construction engineering and management program to provide more comprehensive education in the field. The goal is to establish an academic track for undergraduates, a professional master’s degree and continuing education for working professionals. The curriculum will integrate emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, building information modeling, 3-D printing and robotics into classrooms and collaborative research projects. Ongoing collaborative research in the department and the affiliated Link Lab will continue to inform all aspects of the program.
“We want students to gain the knowledge and skills that they need as future professionals,” Duran said. “That’s why we want a curriculum that is more responsive to industry needs, links coursework to related disciplines across Grounds, and increases exposure to the latest construction technology.”
Duran studied at Universidad Industrial de Santander in her native Colombia, earning B.S. and M.S. degrees, with the latter concentrated in construction management. She completed her Ph.D. in civil engineering in the construction engineering and management program at Virginia Tech, where she received several fellowships and awards for research and teaching excellence.
Assistant professor Majid Shafiee-Jood earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Water Resources Engineering and Science program. He holds a master’s in water resources engineering and a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. He was most recently a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois working on a project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sectoral Applications Research Program to improve the use of drought forecasts in agricultural decision-making in the U.S. Midwest.
Shafiee-Jood’s research focuses on improving the resilience and sustainability of water resources as the consequences of climate change — more frequent weather extremes — and the shift to renewable sources of energy such as biofuels come to bear. His work has been published in high-profile journals, featured in the American Geological Union’s EOS magazine and recommended on Faculty Opinions. He also reviews articles for several journals and is active on a number of task committees at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Environmental and Water Resources Institute congress.
His expertise will complement that of his new colleagues in the department. Water resources is a particular strength among faculty involved in environmental engineering, some of whom hold advisory positions guiding policy at the state and national levels.
Shafiee-Jood’s work combines systems engineering, hydrological modeling, and non-engineering approaches to improve the effective use of weather and climate forecasts in water resources and agricultural management by understanding how decision-makers integrate uncertain forecast information into the choices they make. For example, he has used focus groups, interviews and surveys; analysis of economic data (econometrics) and theory; and physical models to develop computer models to simulate how farmers respond to seasonal drought forecast information.
“I want to understand why decision-makers are reluctant to use forecasts in the real world, to deliver relevant information to them, and to develop effective mechanisms to encourage use of ‘good’ information in real-world decision-making,” he said.
Shafiee-Jood also studies coupled human and natural systems, or CHANS, which examines the complex two-way relationship between social and environmental systems. He is developing theoretical and computational models that use social science methods and advanced data analytic techniques to better model the human side of the equation.
“Studying coupled human and natural systems will allow us to predict the unintended consequences of short-sighted policies affecting both social and environmental systems,” he said.
Shafiee-Jood was a senior at Sharif University of Technology when he first read about the concept of systems resilience in a paper by Yacov Haimes, UVA’s now retired Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Systems Engineering and Environment.
“It is an honor for me now to be in the same department as Professor Haimes,” Shafiee-Jood said. “Apart from this, UVA Engineering has recognized the pressing needs of 21st-century societies and created an excellent academic environment for collaboration and interdisciplinary research. The engineering systems and environment department is probably the most remarkable example of this vision. It’s an amazing place for someone like me with a background in civil and systems engineering.”
The vision is also evident in UVA’s research centers and institutes, he said, noting the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, Environmental Resilience Institute and the Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative are all relevant to his research.
“Last but not least, UVA Engineering provides a great opportunity for me to work with researchers and students who are among the best in the nation,” Shafiee-Jood said.