In 2020, Lindsay Zefting Vera ’02 was named one of the “40 Under 40” in the Albany Business Review for her work as a civil engineer and urban planner. Her late father was a traffic engineer and although Lindsay’s brain was geared the same way and all signs pointed to this type of work, she tried to fight it. As a teenager, no one wants to do have the same career as a parent, but for Lindsay, it was destined to happen.
At Harley, Lindsay excelled in math, but she perplexed her Middle School math teacher, Lee Sherwood Allen McDermott ’64 (Math, 1973-present) because she wasn’t very fast at the foundations of math like adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division. For these problems she would need pencil and paper and extra time to find the answer that many of her classmates could solve in their heads. But, if you gave her complex math with formulas, powers, modules and operations, she could quickly solve the equations and leave some of her classmates in the dust.
When Lindsay was in Upper School, her engineering brain continued to push her forward and Harley’s math and science teachers reinforced this by giving her academic freedom and the tools to problem solve. Harley did not just teach to the test, and, in fact, sometimes Lindsay taught her teachers. One time, JAM (James Aldrich-Moodie) called home to speak to Lindsay’s mom about that day’s math class. When her mom answered, she assumed the call was about her son Brett ’98, the rowdier of the two of them, those calls were usually about him. She was surprised that the call was about Lindsay. That day in math class, JAM was doing a complicated problem on the board and Lindsay raised her hand and said, “I got the same answer, but I did it a totally different way.” She showed her class the way she had solved the problem and JAM was impressed and had to let her mother know.
Her senior year at Harley, Lindsay was accepted to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and she planned to major in structural engineering (like building bridges and buildings), but on a ride home with a friend, her plans changed. “We were sitting at a stop light and my friend was asking questions about the timing of traffic lights and what triggers them to change, time limits, etc. and I started going into minute details about traffic, traffic control systems and lights, why they function the way they do and right then and there, I decided to stop fighting the inclination and just declare that I was going to be a traffic engineer like my dad.”
Her time at RPI was an extension of the problem-solving mentality that she gained at Harley and following her graduation, she worked at a traffic engineering firm, Bergman and Associates (there is also one in Rochester) in the Albany area. She is now an engineer at Alta Planning + Design, an “active transportation company dedicated to creating active, healthy communities through planning, landscape architecture, engineering and education/encouragement programs.” For the last 10 years, she has been working on some pretty incredible projects, including the recently finished Empire State Trail, a bicycle and pedestrian trail that runs across New York State from Manhattan to the Canadian border, connecting the Hudson Valley Corridor, the Erie Canal Trail, north to the Champlain Valley and the Adirondack Mountains. While these three existing trails are great on their own, her job was to connect them and fill in the gaps between the three sections. She leads the projects for the Northeast team for Alta and works all over the state.
Lindsay’s kids on the Empire State Trail
The Covid-19 pandemic affected a lot of industries, but Lindsay says there were a few projects paused due to budget constraints, but for the most part, their contract work continued due to a renewed focus on bicycling and walking in the community.
On top of her work at Alta, Lindsay is also teaching a graduate and undergraduate student class on bicycle and pedestrian planning at SUNY Albany. She took the class herself as a graduate student at SUNY Albany where she graduated with an MA in Urban Planning and Regional Planning. She took the class with her recently retired boss, Jeff Olsen, BEFORE she worked at Alta and continued to take classes while working. She said it took her quite a bit of time to earn her degree. She said she was somewhat “hated” while taking the class due to her relationship with the professor/her boss. Sometimes when he was unable to teach, he would ask her to fill in and that didn’t always sit will with the fellow students. He trusted her work and knew she was more than capable, which is why he nominated her for the “40 under 40” and asked her to teach the class after he stepped down.
Since the shut down from the pandemic, Lindsay and her husband have been working remotely from their home in Troy, NY with their two kids, Sophie (2 ½) and Miles (4 ½). Lindsay tries to involve her kids in her work as much as she can and they have actually explored parts of the Empire State Trail. She wants to show them what she’s so busy working on.
Lindsay got her traffic engineering mind from her dad, but what about her artist mom, Susan Zefting-Kuhn? She says thanks to her mom, she is a really good planner (more than a traditional engineer) and she “has an eye for what will work” meaning she can look at something, get an idea, and quickly determine if it’s a feasible idea before the project even starts. That saves a lot of time and money when it comes to making these projects happen.
She attributes much of her success to Harley’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum and the flexibility that the teachers had in fostering her interests. Lindsay says that is what is so wonderful about Harley: teachers have that freedom to give students an avenue to help their interests grow. She knows she is one of many, many students that have been given this opportunity and for that she is very thankful.