Carnegie Mellon University

Burcu Akinci

August 08, 2022

New Department Head Burcu Akinci Sets a Path for the Future

When newly appointed CEE Department Head Burcu Akinci looks at the modern world and its future, she sees civil and environmental engineering at the center.

“From the earliest days, we have not just shaped the way the world looks but impacted the resources that people and infrastructure consume,” she says. “We influence the social environment too. We contribute positively or negatively to social justice by providing opportunities to communities to come together or be divided through the bridges or roadways we build in between. Everything we do has a huge, multidimensional impact.” 

There is no other field Akinci can think of where someone can make such an impact for such a long period of time. It is this passion for civil and environmental engineering—and for the culture of innovation and collaboration inside this department—that makes her so excited to take the helm of the CEE department. 

Since joining CEE 22 years ago, Akinci has led and contributed to significant progress and growth in the field, including serving as Associate Dean for Research of the College and conducting research on new tools and methods for streamlining construction and facility/infrastructure operations and management processes. 

Settling into her new role, Akinci sees her key priority as enabling the department to work toward its strategic vision of reimagining civil and environmental engineering. As the world grapples with climate impacts and social and environmental injustices, the field appears on the cusp of a major change, and Akinci is confident that the CEE department is designing a way forward.

“That focus towards how we transform our field for the better is inspiring and it makes this department very special,” she says. “We also have excellent faculty, staff, and students, and they really enjoy working with and being around each other. You couldn't ask for a better environment.” 

To help the department achieve its goals, Akinci is focused on preserving CEE’s existing collegial, collaborative and interdisciplinary culture, and maintaining and growing the department’s commitment to innovation and engagement with communities.  . 

Incorporated into all of Akinci’s plans is an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As founding chair of the ASCE Taskforce on Fostering Inclusive Academic Communities and co-chair of CEE’s DEI Committee, Akinci is passionate about creating a culture of belonging for all. By holistically embedding these values into everything from research activities and course design to vendor selection, she believes that CEE is equipping students to be leaders and change agents who will promote diversity, equity and inclusion across their careers. 

“We are in a position as the field, and also the department, to reimagine what civil and environmental engineering is going to look like a decade from now or more,” she says. “I see our department leading not only through visionary thinking and the use of new technologies, but also by exemplifying, for other departments and for the communities we work with, all of the ways that we can embrace diversity, equity and inclusiveness and create a more equitable and sustainable world.”