New Iowa State engineering professor nationally acclaimed for traffic safety research, teaching

Peter Savolainen, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering
Peter Savolainen, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering

Peter Savolainen, a new associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State University, is inspired by new challenges traffic safety and traffic operations bring.

Savolainen joined Iowa State in August 2014. “I was attracted to the Institute for Transportation (InTrans) and its reputation as a national leader in transportation research,” he said. He will leverage his extensive background in traffic safety, statistics, and econometrics to build an Iowa State research program that adds to the existing strengths of InTrans. In addition, Savolainen is excited about designing courses in safety, highway design and planning.

Undergraduate research is one of Savolainen’s highest priorities. “It is imperative to get undergraduate students involved in solving challenging problems and gaining in-depth insights from faculty in a one-on-one setting,” he said. “This helps to train engineers and researchers who will be capable of solving the increasingly complex transportation problems we face as a society.”

Born in Negaunee, Mich., Savolainen developed an interest in civil engineering through high school math, science, and computer-aided design classes. “I was curious about how the transportation system worked,” Savolainen said. His uncle started a consulting firm in nearby Marquette, which was another key factor that drew him to the engineering field.

After graduating high school, he moved 88 miles northwest to attend Michigan Technological University. In 2002, he moved to Purdue University to pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering. Emerging issues, such as the effects of in-vehicle technologies on driver behavior, piqued his interest in transportation engineering research. His adviser’s course on statistics and econometrics led him to pursue a doctorate and author a dissertation focused on motorcycle safety.

In 2006, Savolainen joined the civil engineering faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. There he developed an internationally recognized research program in traffic safety and operations. His teaching efforts also have been highly regarded as a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Excellence in Civil Engineering Education (ExCEEd) program.

At Iowa State, Savolainen said he looks forward to building a nationally competitive traffic safety research program and training tomorrow’s traffic safety leaders through classroom mentoring. “Building student interest in transportation engineering and research is one of the ultimate rewards of an academic career.”