Four new faculty members join civil and environmental engineering


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering added four new faculty members this academic year.

Pinlei Chen joined the department as an assistant professor. She received her master’s degree and doctorate in structural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and her bachelor’s degree from Tongji University in Shanghai.

Prior to coming to Penn State, Chen worked as a teaching assistant for both undergraduate and graduate courses and served as a lecturer, all while completing her Ph.D.

She received the Excellent Teaching Assistant Award twice during her doctoral study at UIUC and was also awarded a travel fellowship to go to the 2016 Engineering Mechanics Institute conference in Nashville and 2018 U.S. National Congress for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics conference in Chicago.

Her research interests focus on computational mechanics and numerical simulations, including modeling the interface and interphase mechanisms for composite material and stabilized methods. The applications of her research include determining the reliability of the objects produced through the modern additive manufacturing process.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, Chen is teaching CE 597: Nonlinear Structural Mechanics.

Chen said she chose Penn State because it’s one of the top research universities in the country, with a highly reputed civil engineering program and also for the ability to engage in interdisciplinary research.

“Given the diversity in research here, Penn State provides excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary projects,” Chen said. “This is exactly what I am looking for.”

Lauren McPhillips joined Penn State as an assistant professor joint-hire in both civil and environmental engineering and agricultural and biological engineering. She received her master’s degree and doctorate in biological and environmental engineering and her bachelor’s degree in science of earth systems, all from Cornell University.

Prior to coming to Penn State, McPhillips completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Arizona State University working with the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network. She also worked as a research technician on stream and wetland hydrology and biogeochemistry at the U.S. Geological Survey (2007-2010).

Her research interests include hydrology and biogeochemistry in human-dominated landscapes. Primarily, she’s working in suburban and urbanizing watersheds. She is hoping to understand how to manage stormwater in a more sustainable and resilient way and is very interested in green infrastructure as an important strategy in doing so.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, McPhillips is teaching CE 360: Fluid mechanics in the fall and is developing a new graduate course in urban hydrology and biogeochemistry for the spring.

McPhillips said she joined Penn State because she saw a great deal of opportunities for potential collaborations as well as excellent resources, including the Penn State Energy and Environmental Sustainability Laboratories.

“There’s lots of folks working on water resources, and there’s some new cross-campus initiatives to integrate this work, which should be very exciting in the coming years,” McPhillips said. “We’re also in a beautiful part of the country with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, and I’m fortunate to be centrally located between family in New York and Virginia.”

Rajesh Paleti joined the department as an assistant professor. He received his master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering from the Department of Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India.

Prior to coming to Penn State, Paleti worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Old Dominion University (2014-2018) and as a transportation systems analyst for Parsons Brinckerhoff in New York City (2013-2014).

He was awarded the 2016 Chan Wui & Yunyin Rising Star Award from the Transportation Research Board; the 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers ExCEEd Teaching Fellowship; the 2013 Pikarsky Memorial Award for best Ph.D. dissertation in the transportation science and technology category; and the 2013 Pyke Johnson Award from the Transportation Research Board.

His research interests include the development of data-centric methods to understand travel behavior and traffic safety. Specifically, he concentrates on generating novel econometric and statistical models with applications in three key areas: travel behavior analysis, traffic safety and transportation systems modeling and simulation.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, Paleti is teaching CE 523 Analysis of Transportation Demand in the fall and CE 422 Transportation Planning in the spring.

Paleti said he joined Penn State because the research group includes a diverse pool of researchers specializing in transportation network modeling, traffic safety and sustainable transportation.

“I believe my skillset would be a good addition to this excellent team and will foster effective collaborations to pursue inter-disciplinary transportation research,” Paleti said.

Wei Peng will join Penn State in January 2019 as an assistant professor joint-hire in civil and environmental engineering and international affairs. She received her doctorate in public policy from Princeton and her bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from Peking University in Beijing.

Peng is currently a Giorgio Ruffolo Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard and a fellow in the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at Johns Hopkins.

Her research interests include the energy-environment nexus, with the aim of informing energy policy to align decarbonization efforts with local environmental and socioeconomic concerns.

As an assistant professor at Penn State, Peng will be teaching a science, technology and international policy course through the School of International Affairs and will be developing a new course for civil engineering on the energy-environment nexus.

“As an interdisciplinary researcher, I am excited about this joint appointment and the opportunity to be part of the new law, policy and engineering initiative at Penn State,” Peng said. “This is a unique opportunity for me to continue working at the intersection of policy and engineering.”


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Jennifer Matthews 



The Law, Policy, and Engineering (LPE) initiative is an interdisciplinary academic and research initiative between Penn State's College of Engineering, Penn State Law, and Penn State's School of International Affairs. The initiative will provide a transformative educational experience for students by actively integrating components of all three disciplines into the curriculum to prepare students for the competitive, interdisciplinary, global workplaces of the future. 

Law, Policy, and Engineering Initiative

The Pennsylvania State University

Engineering Design and Innovation Building

University Park, PA 16802