Carnegie Mellon University

CEE Graduate Seminar Series

Spring 2021

Seminars will be held remotely between 10:40am to 12:00pm. 

Our seminars are open to the public, please contact Randi Senchur for information. Students registered for seminars will receive details via email.

Prepare to Pivot: Broadening Your Professional Range to Adapt to a Changing Future


Doug Larson (CEE ’87)
Senior Principal
Geosyntec Consultants, Inc.


Doug Larson (CEE ’87) will provide a retrospective on the evolution of his career in civil engineering in parallel with the emergence of the environmental remediation industry. After focusing on geotechnical engineering at CMU and subsequently in graduate school at MIT, Larson transitioned to working on environmental restoration projects for most of his professional career, picking up skills in computer programming, telecommunications, stochastic modeling, chemistry and biotechnology along the way to solve new and interesting problems. 

Larson will also share thoughts on important leadership strategies that are critical for building effective and interdisciplinary teams to tackle complex challenges inside and outside of work.

Doug Larson is an Executive Vice President at Geosyntec Consultants, Inc., where he manages the firm’s Multinational Operations group with a combined staff of over 400 engineers and scientists in approximately 20 offices. He received his BS in Civil Engineering from CMU in 1987 and MS and PhD degrees from MIT in 1989 and 1992, respectively.

Larson has designed and managed the implementation of a wide variety of remedial solutions to restore contaminated properties to productive reuse and to protect groundwater resources. Many of his projects address emerging or recalcitrant compounds such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), radionuclides and chlorinated solvents. He has also been the technical lead on projects involving litigation support, financial risk analysis, and regulatory negotiation. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and is currently an instructor for the Princeton Groundwater Remediation and Hydrology Courses.

Larson is also actively involved in volunteer projects that incorporate his civil engineering and construction management skills. These have included water supply and school construction projects in Nicaragua and Liberia, and home reconstruction projects with several teams of high school students in the Appalachia region of the United States.

Machine Learning for Uncertainty Quantification: From Atomistic Material Modeling to Large-Scale Wind Tunnel Experiments

Michael Shields headshot

Michael D. Shields
Associate Professor
Dept. of Civil & Systems Engineering
Johns Hopkins University


Uncertainty Quantification (UQ) and Machine Learning (ML) are inextricably linked. UQ, for it’s part, is inherently a data-driven learning process wherein the objective is to probabilistically quantify uncertainties associated with physical quantities of interest. ML, on the other hand, is generally speaking a process by which relationships are learned automatically from data. These relations invariably include uncertainties that need to be quantified. Hence, UQ is innately an exercise in ML and ML requires UQ.

In this talk, I will discuss these relationships in more detail and introduce a set of novel developments that leverage state-of-the-art ML methods to enhance UQ capabilities for applications ranging from assessing uncertainties in material performance from multi-scale models to understanding the influence of uncertainties in wind engineering from large-scale boundary layer wind tunnel (BLWT) experiments.

Big picture, I present a well-established active machine learning framework for UQ. I then delve into some important improvements to this framework that enable UQ for complex and very high-dimensional systems. These improvements leverage a family of dimension reduction methods (another form of ML) that project high-dimensional data onto a low-dimensional manifold. Active learning can then be performed on these low-dimensional manifolds to iteratively improve UQ estimates and optimize data collection.

I focus on two specific applications of this framework. In the first application, we aim to understand the influence of uncertainties in material structure and parameters on localized inelastic deformation of amorphous solids – specifically metallic glasses – derived from multi-scale simulations. The second application leverages this framework to drive automated BLWT experiments in order to understand the influence of terrain rougness on higher-order statistical properties of wind velocity fields.

Michael D. Shields is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Civil & Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and holds a secondary appointment in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering. Shields conducts methodological research in uncertainty quantification and stochastic simulation for problems in mechanics with applications ranging from material modeling to assessing the reliability and safety of large-scale structures. He received his PhD in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics from Columbia University in 2010, after which he was employed as a Research Engineer in applied computational mechanics at Weidlinger Associates, Inc. He joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2013.

For his work in UQ, Shields has been awarded the ONR Young Investigator Award, the NSF CAREER Award, the DOE Early Career Award, and the Johns Hopkins University Catalyst Award.

Assessment informs Design: Advancing Sustainable Water, Energy, and Materials

 Julie Zimmerman portrait

Julie Zimmerman
Chemical & Environmental Engineering,
Environment and Epidemiology (Environmental Health Sciences)
Yale University


The design of sustainable products, processes and systems must be informed by rigorous assessments in order to minimize unintended consequences. By focusing on how to structure assessments to provide the necessary input, the resulting designs can achieve significant and measurable improvements in sustainability performance.

Three case studies will be presented demonstrating the feedback between assessment and design including novel sorbents for removal of inorganic contaminants from aqueous systems; an improved process for the extraction, fractionation, and transformation of biobased feedstocks; and establishing dominant physiochemical properties contributing to observed toxicity. Each of these case studies will illustrate an integrative and iterative approach for sustainable design of engineered systems informed by systematic assessments.

Professor Julie Zimmerman is an internationally recognized engineer whose work is focused on advancing innovations in sustainable technologies. Zimmerman holds joint appointments as a Professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. She also serves at the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Environment School.

In February 2020, Zimmerman was appointed the Editor in Chief of Environmental Science & Technology, the most highly cited journal in the fields in Environmental Sciences and Engineering. Julie’s pioneering work established the fundamental framework for her field with her seminal publications on the “Twelve Principles of Green Engineering” in 2003. She demonstrates this framework in her research including breakthroughs on the integrated biorefinery, designing safer chemicals and (nano)materials, developing novel materials for water treatment, and analyzing the water-energy nexus.

Prior to joining Yale, Zimmerman was an Engineer and program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency leading the national sustainable design competition, P3 (People, Prosperity, and Planet) Award, which has engaged design teams from hundreds of universities across the U.S. Professor Zimmerman is the co-author of the textbook, Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design that is used in the engineering programs at leading universities and is an Elected Member of the Connecticut Academy of Sciences.

Zimmerman earned her BS from the University of Virginia and her PhD from the University of Michigan jointly from the School of Engineering and the School of Environment and Sustainability.

Building a Culture of Inclusion in Engineering


Alaine Allen
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
College of Engineering
Carnegie Mellon Univeristy

 At a time when engineering schools can be perceived as exclusive and unwelcoming spaces, some schools have created inclusive cultures that result in a high number of graduates from backgrounds that are historically marginalized. This presentation will use Smith’s Framework for Institutional Diversity to explore how engineering schools and departments can shift the culture and climate of their environment and build the capacity for students, staff, faculty, and administrators to thrive.


Alaine M. Allen is an educator who intentionally works to uplift the voices of and create opportunities for individuals from groups historically marginalized in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) environments.

She currently serves as the associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, where she is committed to creating a culture of inclusive excellence that enables the entire community to thrive. Allen's professional experiences include teaching high school physics, directing pre-college STEM and undergraduate diversity programs in engineering, as well as partnering with the broader community.

Allen has a Bachelor of Science degree in physics education from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, as well as a Master of Education degree in policy, planning, and evaluation and a Doctor of Education degree, both from the University of Pittsburgh.

Energy Poverty: Measuring and Planning


Destenie Nock
Assistant Professor
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Engineering & Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University


There are many decision makers and constituencies in energy system planning, each of which may make decisions or influence decisions according to their own versions of the desired goals. It is clear that the future electricity generation mix of the power system will change, but the most equitable solution will be based on a country's starting point, and their goals.

This research discusses a new metric we propose for measuring energy poverty in the USA, called the Energy Equity Gap (EEG). We then tie this with an energy planning tools, which can help us design a more equitable system. The research team has worked focused in energy poverty in the USA and in Sub-Saharan Africa. There will be a discussion regarding stakeholder how the planning landscape varies in developed and developing countries. Then we will discuss our method for incorporating social equality into the sustainability analysis framework, thus displaying how social facets of sustainability impede or support an equitable energy transition.

Professor Destenie Nock is an Assistant Professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE), and Engineering and Public Policy (EPP). Her research is focused on applying optimization and decision analysis tools to evaluate the sustainability, equity, and reliability of power systems in the US and Sub-Saharan Africa. One of her current projects include developing a framework for understanding the sustainability and equity trade-offs for different power plant investments. Another project involves quantifying the air pollution emissions associated with electric transmission and distribution systems.

Nock holds a PhD in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and an Offshore Wind Energy IGERT Fellow. She earned a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen's University of Belfast, and two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Math at North Carolina A&T State University.

She is the creator of the PhD-ing It Blog site which posts articles about graduate and undergraduate advice, and research updates in energy and sustainability.

Inland Flood Risk and Municipal/Regional Resilience in Georgia: The AT&T Climate Resiliency Community Challenge

 Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy

Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy
Associate Chair for Global Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship,
Professor Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology


Climate change in the Anthropocene era has introduced new challenges in infrastructure management. With limited funding, fragmented data availability, methodological evolution and a relatively slow-to-change institutional framework, local agencies must develop processes that enable them to anticipate and address evolving challenges while managing existing ones. This AT&T climate resiliency community challenge is focused on inland flooding hazards in the state of Georgia.

We develop and apply a collection of conceptual and analytical frameworks to assess the flood vulnerability of local communities - leveraging climate projection model data developed by Argonne National Laboratory for AT&T and using other data sources to fill existing gaps. The projections are used as hazard exposure data along with other vulnerability datasets applying the social-ecological-technical systems (SETS) approach, developed by the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, modified to formally consider institutions for resiliency.

Working with multiple stakeholders from different public agencies - the Atlanta Regional Commission, Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, and the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, we study four cities: Atlanta, Austell, Albany and Carollton to determine GIS-based hotspots – regions of high exposure and vulnerability in the communities. The overarching finding is that communities that have the highest exposures to inland flooding hazard also have the highest vulnerability and a history of flooding where minority populations are in the majority. The results also show there is continuum of maturity in public awareness of inland flood risks, the multiple factors influencing vulnerability, knowledge of where the highest vulnerabilities and exposure occur in various communities, and in the institutional and fiscal capabilities to address this hazard. The talk will discuss the approach, findings, significance and recommendations of the study.

Professor Amekudzi-Kennedy studies systems problems on the integrated built, natural, social and information environments to understand how we can make better decisions on built systems to promote resilient, smart and sustainable development. Her current research focuses on the development and application of systems and sustainability engineering methods to promote sustainable development.

Kennedy has authored extensively, developed undergraduate and graduate courses, and provided technical support for multiple international, national, state and local initiatives in these interdisciplinary areas. She serves as the primary instructor for the required undergraduate course: Civil Engineering Systems, and the graduate elective: Infrastructure Systems, both of which address the proper stewardship of infrastructure. Kennedy is the founding Chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Committee on Sustainability and the Environment in the Transportation & Development Institute. She served on the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment (National Research Council) for 10 years, and is a member of the Transportation Asset Management Committee of the Transportation Research Board.

Kennedy led the development of the Global Engineering Leadership Minor at Georgia Tech, and serves on the editorial boards for the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, and Sustainability and Climate Change. She is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Construction. For leisure, she enjoys spending time with family, playing the piano and painting.