He was only on campus for three years — 2009-12, while serving as a visiting professor — but “Illinois will always hold a special place in my heart,” Feniosky Peña-Mora says.
"This is the place where I raised my children and where their interest and personalities developed,” adds the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Design and Construction. “I can still remember them running all over campus and in awe of the engineering labs, particularly the Newmark Civil Engineering Building, where I worked.
“How much they looked forward to the engineering open house each March to see what new things have been created in the labs at Illinois and to Quad Day before class starts to see what cool things students at Illinois were doing.
“But if there is a place that brings the warmest memories, it’s the Siebel Center. I remember the years that my children competed in the first Lego competition hosted by the engineering school. I can still remember them walking with their robot, fine-tuning their programs and practicing for their research competition in the different rooms in the building and competing in the main auditorium. Their teams were very successful, bringing home many awards and medals throughout the years.
“My most treasured memory is that of my fourth-grade, oldest daughter, upset upon losing the state research competition in Chicago to my son’s sixth-grade team and telling him ‘Who cares what those judges think? Nobel Prize winner Sir Tony Leggett at Illinois gave us the first prize. That’s what’s impressive.’
“Dr Leggett had been one of the judges who awarded them the first prize in research at Siebel. Siebel is the place where their love of STEAM started. Today, my son is a mechanical engineering graduate pursuing his Ph.D., my oldest daughter is a junior in material science and engineering and my youngest daughter is an incoming freshman in bioengineering, all of them at MIT.
“Illinois nurtured their passion.”