APTF Scholar Spotlight 

Since its inception in 1988 the American Public Transportation Foundation has awarded over $1,000,000 in scholarships in pursuit of the APTF's mission of increase and retain the number of individuals choosing the transit field as a career. This spotlight shines on the scholars and professionals who have received awards and shares how they have progressed in the industry. ​

​Sean Varsolona​

Transportation Planner II
2013 Richard J. Bouchard Scholarship Recipient

1. Describe your role and the work that you do.

My official title is Transportation Planner II with AECOM. The project that brought me on board is the Focus40 project for MassDOT/MBTA, for which I am one of the lead planners. In addition, I provide planning support to other projects that AECOM is a part of. These include the CT Safe Routes to School and traffic related work for a new casino opening in Everett, MA​.

2. Why public transportation?

I grew up loving trains. When I was a senior at Swarthmore College I studied abroad in Copenhagen and absolutely admired how well their entire transit system runs. When I returned to Swarthmore for my senior spring semester, I took Urban Economics, which ended up being my favorite class during undergrad. Then, after working a few years in the finance industry, I realized my passion was with transportation and specifically, public transportation. I researched graduate schools for Urban Planning and luckily, Rutgers (the public university of my home state) was very highly ranked for its master’s program in City and Regional Planning. Attending that program was one of the greatest life decisions I have ever made.

3. How did receiving an APTF Scholarship enhance or make a difference in your career? 

Aside from gaining great friendships with the other scholarship winners in my year--many of whom I still speak with--the biggest benefit I gained was getting one-on-one experience with true transit experts. It opened doors for me on a professional front. My scholarship was sponsored by AECOM, my current firm, and I am certain the connections gained, and respect I earned with AECOM employees, allowed me to earn my current position.  

4. What does the future of public transportation look like from your vantage point?

Statistics tells us that millennials want to move out of the suburbs and back to the cities where their entire lives can be lived within a subway, train or bus ride. Due to this, I see that the need for strong public transit is greater than ever. The North-South Rail Link in Boston is a project that I greatly hope to see come to fruition. Getting a one-seat ride from Lowell (my current city and the northern terminus of an MBTA commuter rail line) to Providence, Rhode Island, would be a great way to unlock jobs, culture and a wide range of other positives.   

5.What would readers be surprised to learn about you?

When I am not at AECOM or out with friends, I like to produce my own music and shoot photography. They are hobbies that provide a creative release and keep my mind working in ways that I feel also benefit my work.  That was another benefit of studying abroad. While in Copenhagen, I took a creative industries course where the professor emphasized the importance of artistic thought to drive creation in industries that might be unrelated. The importance of “thinking outside the box” in our industry is, in my opinion, very important to achieve societal goals and I feel that these two hobbies help give me various perspectives on how to approach solutions to problems.

6. How can the industry encourage more young professionals to seek careers in public transportation? 

More colleges and universities should offer classes that are related to transit or urban life that can help students understand how public transportation is beneficial to the community. As an economics major, Urban Economics was the one class that made me say, “Yes, this is what I really want to be doing in my life.” Additionally, I feel that the shift back to city life in younger generations inherently leads one to appreciate a strong public transportation system. Suburbs are more auto-centric, whereas cities thrive when supplemented by a strong public transit system.