WTS Woman of the Year
Leslie Richards, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Secretary Richards has her mark on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation through her inspiring leadership and innovation. Her career has included work in local government and the private and public sectors. Secretary Richards holds a master’s in regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania, having earned her bachelor’s with a concentration on economics and urban planning, from Brown University. Her previous experience as the vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners saved the County $1 million and improved efficiency while restructuring its road and bridge division. These accomplishments uniquely qualified her to be nominated and unanimously confirmed as Pennsylvania’s first female Secretary of PennDOT.
In her three years as Secretary, Richards has instituted new Strategic Directions based on a policy of sustainable infrastructure investments, as well as innovation throughout the Department. Some of these new policies include the Transportation Investment Plan, a metric driven strategic investment approach for the 12 Year Capital Program; a $2.1 billion maintenance and system preservation initiative, termed PennDOT Road MaP; and PennDOT Connects, a transformative approach that focuses on improved collaboration among all parties for the planning and delivery of capital and maintenance projects. Specifically, the policy will enhance PennDOT’s collaboration with local governments and ensure that the Department’s investments consider the mobility needs of the communities. The Secretary also was recently named chair of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and serves as chair of the Pennsylvania Public Private Partnership Board. She also was recently named to the national Transportation Research Board (TRB) Executive Committee.
The Secretary’s vision is for PennDOT to continue to become more efficient to meet the funding challenges ahead, to develop a diversified workforce that offers employees fulfilling career opportunities, and to broaden its planning and project development process in a way that considers input from all stakeholders reflecting a truly multi-modal approach.
In addition, Secretary Richards takes time to speak about the importance of women occupying roles in public service and transportation. Richards says her focus on women’s active participation in public service stems from a conversation in which it was pointed out to her that her story is one worth telling, that it could give women the confidence to enter the public service and transportation sector.
WTS Honorable Ray LaHood Award
Phillip A. Washington, Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)
Metro’s CEO Phillip A. Washington has led by example in contributions toward the advancement of women and minorities and his words are followed by action and results. His contributions stand as a reminder of what one person can help accomplish and the importance of creating opportunities for us all. Some of these accomplishments include achieving the LA Metro goal of 25 percent for Small Business and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation for the first time since inception of the program and advancing the innovative Small Business Prime program that sets aside applicable contracts of up to $5 million for Metro‐certified Small Business Enterprises (SBEs) to compete, opening a direct route to contract opportunities for SBEs.
Speaking to a sold‐out WTS‐LA breakfast on August 6, 2015, Washington talked of his strong commitment to WTS. He noted that his efforts to advance women and minorities, as well as transportation, truly began at home. He spoke of how his early involvement in WTS was influenced by his experience as the only son in a family with five sisters. Originally from the Chicago housing projects, he observed his mother and sisters make long and involved transportation commutes to work and education, and the impact it had on their lives. He also spoke to the importance of opportunities and mentoring when discussing his move from the military to the Denver RTD. He is a 24‐year veteran of the United States Army where he held the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the highest non‐commissioned officer rank.
Washington leads Metro in Southern California with approximately 10,600 employees. Metro’s commitment to fair hiring and advancement remains steadfast. Metro EEO staff examines each new hire to ensure that all candidate selections are fair and consistent with the current labor market, and it works. Although males still dominate the transit agency workforce nationally, 29 percent of Metro is female, well above the national average. What is even more remarkable is what Metro has accomplished at management levels. At present, 43 percent of all Metro managers are women. Women comprise 53 percent of Metro’s current Entry‐Level Training Program. As for its Internship Program, 54 percent of the current interns are women and 44 percent of Metro’s Tuition Reimbursement Program are women.
Metro is a long‐standing advocate and supporter of WTS‐LA, with Metro leadership and staff serving as keynote speakers and emcees for programs, as well as filling a variety of board, committee and volunteer posts; hosting project tours and groups of WTS‐LA students and supporting monthly events by purchasing tables. In 1990/1991 Metro won the chapter’s Employer of the Year award, only the second to be awarded (Los Angeles County Transportation Commission), and won again in 2015. It also has been honored with the past five Innovative Transportation Solutions awards and two of the three past Diversity Leadership honors. As a former board member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), founder and first Chair of the local COMTO Chapter in Denver, and former chair of APTA, Phil Washington remains committed and active in organizations that are created to provide a forum for minority professionals in the transportation industry.
Phil Washington has already experienced a stellar career … and continues that pattern at Metro. But in addition to his remarkable accomplishments, he has achieved these goals in a truly unique way: living by the principles of fairness and inclusion that he holds dear.
WTS Member of the Year
Lauren Ferrell, PE, Project Manager, Rick Engineering Company
Lauren Ferrell has been an active member of the San Diego County transportation industry for over ten years leading multi-discipline teams to complete preliminary, environmental, and final design for transportation and transit centered projects. Ms. Ferrell also specializes in storm water management on behalf of the owner or contractor.
Ms. Ferrell served as the WTS San Diego County Chapter President in 2015 and 2016 and held various board member and volunteering positions prior to her presidency. She was first introduced to WTS as a recipient of the Paulette Duve Memorial Undergraduate and Graduate Scholarships.
Ms. Ferrell has remained committed to the goals, growth, and mission of WTS and has elevated the reputation of the San Diego County chapter and international organization within the transportation industry. New and renewing memberships hit an all-time high during her term as president as she focused on member specific benefits. The chapter’s fundraising events net profit was higher than ever before. Ms. Ferrell did a phenomenal job of delegating tasks to volunteers while also allowing creative freedom. She had the ability to identify strengths in volunteers and lead them in a direction that was beneficial for their career while also growing the chapter. Even years before her term as president, Ms. Ferrell actively recruited new chapter volunteers, and several board members obtained their leadership roles as a result of her efforts.
During her term as president, the chapter hosted numerous high-quality programs that align with the mission of WTS. She spearheaded the “Women in Transportation” series comprised of informative and inspiring panel discussions featuring female leaders in construction, rail, and aviation that represent the public and private sectors along with women business owners.
She has effectively strengthened relationships between the local chapter and neighboring chapters in southern California, as well as, WTS International. During her years as president, the chapter continued to maintain a strong relationship by hosting annual joint lunch programs and attending programs, fundraisers, and awards dinners hosted by other chapters. Ms. Ferrell was instrumental in having the southern California chapters of WTS represented at the annual Mobility 21 Summit that created opportunities for WTS members to influence and lead positive changes through participation in local and regional conversations. Over the years she’s attended multiple WTS leadership trainings and annual conferences to maintain a healthy line of communication between the local chapter and WTS International board and staff.
In 2015, Ms. Ferrell achieved yet another major milestone during her term as president with the formation of the San Diego State University WTS student chapter. The continued development of this chapter will help students more effectively bridge the gap between academia and working in the transportation industry. Ms. Ferrell’s vision also focused on student outreach efforts and included the first-ever construction site field trip with inner city high school science club students along with members of the student chapter to learn about highway bridge construction and design-build delivery methods. Ms. Ferrell’s work with WTS showcases the organization’s ability to support women at many stages of their careers.Phil Washington has already experienced a stellar career … and continues that pattern at Metro. But in addition to his remarkable accomplishments, he has achieved these goals in a truly unique way: living by the principles of fairness and inclusion that he holds dear.
WTS Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award
Michele L. Howard, Chicago Public Schools Scholarship Manager
Michele L. Howard is the Scholarship Manager for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and has been a huge asset to the WTS Greater Chicago chapter. Her positive attitude, energy and passion for the students she works with is contagious and allows her to accomplish incredible things for the students of Chicago with very limited resources. She has been a great partner for the Greater Chicago chapter scholarship program working to craft new ways to get the high school scholarship opportunity in front of students and help them develop competitive applications. While her focus is scholarship opportunities, when Michele learned about the WTS Transportation YOU high school mentor program, she knew it was something she wanted to support and promote. Although the WTS Transportation YOU program does not fall within her role and responsibilities, Michele made time within her busy schedule to contribute to the success of the program. Passionate about the program, Michele personally reached out to students and their parents to encourage participation.
Michele currently serves as the Scholarship Manager within the Office of College and Career Success for the Chicago Public School District. In this role she supports, manages and drives systematic change to better serve the 400,000 children of Chicago ensuring that students have access to scholarship opportunities. Prior to this role, Michele supported 60 south side elementary and high schools within CPS as a College and Career Specialist for Networks 9 & 12. Much of her passion and expertise comes from her time working for the MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization, on the “College Match” Chicago project. The college match initiative developed her understanding of the level of support students and families needed to reinforce their academic strength and social capital in order to be considered for selective and highly selective colleges/universities. The work has pushed her into a position of leadership and advocacy for the most underserved CPS students.
Servicing and supporting children is distinctly reflected through activities outside of her everyday work duties as well. With over 10 years of education experience and being a strong believer in community service, Michele was asked to serve as the Executive Director for 365 Girl Foundation, a national non-Profit where she worked to empower girls ages 10 to 18 focusing on four main ideals, self-esteem, education, healthy habits and community development. She served for 7 years, implementing an after-school program impacting over 120 girls in Chicago, managing the foundations Blog Talk Radio Show with over 5,000 listeners, and hosting over 700 girls at the annual “100 Girl Pajama Conferences” held between Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA. Through 365 Girl, Michele worked to collaborate with other community-based organizations to provide year-round access to community resources. An avid believer in supporting her alma mater, she currently serves as the Education Chairman for the Howard University Alumni Club of Chicago. Additionally, in May of 2017 she completed her Educational Administration Master’s Degree program at Concordia University Chicago. She believes strongly that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education” - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Michele’s husband David Howard, her parents Milton & Careda Taylor, sister Kristen Taylor and village inspire her daily to continue to strive for excellence in all her endeavors.
WTS Employer of the Year
VHB is a passionate team of 1,350 professionals working from 24 offices along the east coast and is a top employer for women in the industry. This is demonstrated through their support for professional development, dedication to securing employees’ futures, culture of collaboration, commitment to achieving balance, and stewardship through their Generational Company model. These core values are supported by providing extensive financial support for professional development, a focus on mentoring and thoughtful career development, and a deliberately open and supportive culture.
Women serve in all levels of leadership at VHB, including their Board of Directors, Executive Committee, and Regional/Office Management. Women at VHB are leading critical strategic plan initiatives, including significantly growing the firm’s services and breaking into new markets. The company is a workplace where support for women goes well beyond the numbers and the metrics. VHB’s culture promotes a sense of inclusion, importance, and support for all employees. The value that each VHB team member brings, regardless of gender, is valued. This is demonstrated in how people treat each other on project teams, in interviews, and in decision making. VHB’s supportive culture allows women to truly thrive—whether as an intern or as an executive.
VHB is a Generational Company, and as part of that model they make certain their employees can fulfill their full potential. Ownership transition is an important part of being a Generational Company. VHB has an ongoing program that identifies and rewards new generations of outstanding professional owners (24% female). This is one of the attributes employees value about VHB—that they are constantly encouraging professionals to continue to grow their careers and the careers of others. The company has also created robust learning opportunities for employees at different stages in their careers, beginning with onboarding, to foster leadership development.
In 2017, VHB welcomed 360 new employees; 43% were women. As one of the first signers of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council’s 100% Talent Compact, VHB is among 170 Massachusetts businesses leading the way to take concrete, measurable steps to eliminate the gender wage gap. VHB also participated in The Boston Women’s Workforce Council Annual Best Practices Summit. VHB President and CEO Michael J. Carragher said, “As a company focused on recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest in the industry, we understand the importance of initiatives such as the 100% Talent Compact and are proud to play a part in advancing the efforts of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council.”
VHB’s passion for making meaningful contributions to the industry and to the world is demonstrated through longtime support of professional organizations like WTS. VHB sponsors chapters along the east coast, leads at the international level, holds positions on multiple WTS Boards of Directors, chairs and supports committees, participates in events, and shares the benefits of involvement with WTS at VHB and throughout the industry. VHB is proud to support the WTS mission and is dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in the transportation industry.
WTS Innovative Transportation Solutions Award
Elliott Bay Seawall Project
The Elliott Bay Seawall Project will have a significant lasting impact on Seattle. The Seawall Project replaced the aging, failing seawall along the waterfront and improved the lost nearshore environment. This $410M project protects existing and future upland infrastructure and provides the foundation for future development by the Waterfront Seattle Program being undertaken by the City of Seattle to transform and revitalize Seattle’s waterfront into a “Waterfront for All”. In addition to its forward compatibility with future waterfront programs and enhancements of habitat for local aquatic life, it’s unique design provides life safety protection against seismic risk and supports the overall mobility for all waterfront users in a rapidly growing Seattle.
The original Elliott Bay Seawall, built between 1916 and 1936, had deteriorated over time leaving essential upland infrastructure including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, surface streets, railroads, critical local and regional utilities, the tourism industry, and the country’s largest ferry terminal, vulnerable to catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster. The new seawall meets current seismic standards and will last more than 75 years, serving as the foundation of Seattle's future waterfront.
In addition to the stability this project will provide the City of Seattle for years to come, this project highlights, and showcases the talents of talented women for this WTS Puget Sound Chapter Award because success of this project was largely accredited to three powerful women. Jessica Murphy, Project Manager (SDOT), Lorelei Williams – Construction Executive (SDOT), and Jody Robinson – Resident Engineer (Jacobs) were instrumental in navigating this complex and high-risk project due to the environmental intricacies and constructing next adjacent to the viaduct. Their ability to manage the project, made the largest project SDOT has ever built a success and it is a testament to the strengths of the women on this team that shines through all phases of the project and were critical to the successful completion of the project. However, these three women were not the only ones involved; there were significant contributions from women at all phases and levels of the project. The project team included women from planning to construction with over 30 women engaged in the Planning/Design, over 10 City Staff engaged throughout the project, 12 in the construction management team, and dozens involved in the construction. Everyone involved with the project can be proud of the completion and the project’s success.
This project was completed in 2017, and it provides the foundation for which the rest of the Seattle Waterfront program will be built upon. With the seawall complete, the City is no longer vulnerable to any seismic events, the habitat enhancements are beginning to show results, and the waterfront program is able to begin the next phase in which $700M will be invested in construction of a new Alaskan Way and Pedestrian Promenade, Marion St Bridge and Overlook Walk, and other east west street connections that will transform Seattle’s waterfront into a Waterfront for All and provide many additional opportunities for women to lead the way to innovative, collaborative, and positive change.