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Debra Laefer

Debra Laefer

NYU urban informatics professor | Director of Citizen Science | Class of 2001

Debra Laefer’s Welcome to Central Illinois moment came in the mid-'90s, when the New York City transplant turned UI grad student learned what it would run her to rent an apartment here.

“The cost was only $250 a month, which was exactly what I was paying to rent a parking spot in Manhattan in a non-24 hour garage in a fairly marginal neighborhood,” says Laefer, who stayed in C-U for her master’s (1997) and Ph.D. (2001), both in civil engineering.

She’s back in the Big Apple now, where she’s a professor of urban informatics. But she hasn’t forgotten about her cozy Champaign home.

“I rented half a house on West Park Ave. on the last block before Mattis in a nice neighborhood of small, older houses and big trees,” she says. “The area in Champaign was lovely, but I was unaccustomed to all of the wildlife that often came from the undeveloped fields surrounding the Schnucks grocery store.

“Woodchucks, possum, raccoons and deer were occasional visitors among the more frequent birds, rabbits and squirrels. The squirrels and the trees dropping their acorns made for quite a racket, often distracting me from my studies much more so than New York City’s traffic ever had.”