Advancing Women in Transportation

2016 Award Recipients

Member of the Year Award: Amber Nord

In 2009 and 2010, the transportation industry (and the whole nation) was hit hard by an economic recession. Seasoned members of WTS were retreating, busy with understaffed projects or the hardships and uncertainties of unemployment. Amber found new energy to fill the WTS Minnesota board of directors, implemented new procedures and operations for improved effectiveness and efficiency, and provided a vision of an even better organization to emerge from the recession. When no one was ready to take on the presidency in 2010, she generously stayed on for another year.

She didn’t just mark time either – she provided the final push to raise the $80,000 needed to fund the chapter’s scholarship program in perpetuity; she started the effort to update operations with the use of Constant Contact for chapter communications; she formalized the role of the advisory board with a written policy; and she initiated the revitalization of the annual Holiday Party and Scholarship Fundraiser. She was the example of commitment and vision for a new generation of WTS Minnesota leadership.

In 2014, Amber was invited to join the WTS Minnesota Advisory Board, to continue to provide her guidance at a higher level. Continuing to serve WTS generously, she also accepted the role of the chapter’s representative to the Central Region Council in 2014. She continues to serve in this role in 2016, helping to plan the Central Region Conference and providing a communication link to other chapters in the region.

The results of Amber’s efforts five years ago are clear today: chapter membership in 2015 has nearly doubled since the lows of the recession; attendance at the chapter’s Scholarship and Recognitions Luncheon has more than doubled, and attendance at the Holiday Party and Scholarship Fundraiser has tripled; and three board positions have been added to execute the expanded offerings of the chapter. The chapter owes its current strength to Amber for providing the stability to see the chapter through the recession, and planting the seeds for growth beyond.

Woman of the Year Award: Connie Kozlak

Connie Kozlak is an amazing woman, a vocal and respected advocate for all forms of transportation, a walking encyclopedia on local and national transit history and policy, and an advocate for women.  As she prepares for her retirement this year, I would like to recognize her outstanding contributions to the transportation industry and to WTS Minnesota.  She is smart, supportive, incredibly knowledgeable, and has been a wonderful mentor and supporter of women of all ages and career stages. 

Connie has also already been recognized for her leadership and contributions by other organizations, and for good reason.  In 2008, she was awarded the CTS Ray L. Lappegaard Distinguished Service Award, which is presented to a transportation professional who displays outstanding leadership, mentorship and support to the profession.   Connie shares this honor with many other prestigious local transportation leaders, including Jeff Hamiel, Charlie Zelle, Nacho Diez, Julie Skallman and others.

In 2009, Connie was recognized by the University of Minnesota Alumni Association with an Alumni Service Award in recognition of "14 years of dedicated and effective service to the Humphrey Institute’s (School's) mentor program.   Connie is well respected in the planning community and provides an invaluable resource to the institute’s career services operation through her pipeline to planning organizations and agencies for internship and employment opportunities for students." Connie has been involved with the mentor program for 20 years, and has provided countless students with insight, direction, or just advice.  She always says yes when the University or students call, and has provided valued connections to work in both public and private agencies.

Connie was also one of the founding members of the WTS Minnesota Chapter.  More importantly, since its founding over 30 years ago, she has maintained constant involvement and support for the chapter, its leadership, and its members.

Employer of the Year Award: Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH)

SEH is a 100-percent employee-owned company. It is growing and plans to add 100 more employees in the coming year.  With SEH’s continued growth lies the opportunity to provide more opportunities for all people within the company to advance. SEH currently has 25 women in leadership positions including the local regional manager, two executive team members and approximately 100 women who have Project Management responsibilities. Many women serve in management and senior management positions, and 14 have been appointed as Principals and Associates. 

SEH has 7 Affirmative Action Plans the goals related to gender that have either declined or been eliminated year over year.  This has been achieved through outreach to female focused professional organizations, dedicated campus recruitment efforts and creating awareness with our existing employees.

Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award: Health Equity Engagement Cohort

The work of Hennepin County, Nexus Community Partners and the Health Equity and Engagement Cohort on station area planning for the METRO Blue Line Extension (Bottineau LRT) station area planning has been a game-changer for bringing new voices, faces and perspectives into this project.

With funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Center for Prevention since 2013, their work is bringing collaborative community engagement with a health equity lens into the forefront to maximize health benefits for low-income communities and communities of color along this proposed LRT line. Their work also has elevated the discussion of racial equity and health disparities, and increased the participation and influence of communities of color in planning for this important regional transit investment.

The purpose of the health equity and station area community engagement is to:

  • Increase the engagement of low-income people and historic communities of color and immigrant/refugee populations living near station areas on the proposed Bottineau Transitway
  • Ensure that station area plans support healthy and equitable communities.
  • Act as a model for Hennepin County to proactively integrate community engagement and health equity principles into future projects.

At the core of this effort is the Health Equity and Engagement Cohort, known as the HEEC. Nexus Community Partners reached out to faith-based, geographic and cultural communities to convene a group of small organizations with networks in communities typically underrepresented in LRT planning processes, including the African American, African immigrant, Hmong and Lao communities. The Health Equity Engagement Cohort has consisted of 13 organizations, all led by people of color, 8 of which led by women, and women were 11 of the 13 key staff on the project. The HEEC is composed of the following organizations: ACER, African American Leadership Forum, CAPI USA, CLUES, Harrison Neighborhood Association, Heritage Park Neighborhood Association, Lao Assistance Center of MN, Masjid An-Nur, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council, and Redeemer Center for Life.

Each selected group receives funds to carry out engagement activities within their constituent communities. Nexus and Hennepin work together to provide training and technical assistance on light rail transit and health equity, and to build organizational capacity to conduct engagement activities. This has helped to demystify the LRT planning process and helped community representatives understand when and how to influence the process – increasing their visibility and their influence. Community representatives use their networks to conduct education and engagement using strategies that they think would work with their unique communities.

Innovative Transportation Solutions Award: Mackenzie Turner Bargen and Lacy Shelby, Parklets Program, City of Minneapolis

Mackenzie Turner Bargen is an Associate Transportation Planner for the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department, and her area of specialty is pedestrian projects. Previous to this role, she was a Bike Walk Ambassador for the city, performing education and outreach to encourage bicycling and walking in the community. Mackenzie began her new planner position at the end of 2013, and hit the ground running by serving as the project manager for the City’s 2014 Parklet Pilot Program. Based on a concept that originated in San Francisco in 2010, Mackenzie personally advanced the project because she saw it as an opportunity to improve street life for pedestrians in Minneapolis. Managing projects in a city bureaucracy requires a high degree of aptitude about how government works. This is particularly true with an innovative project like parklets, due to the heightened need for approval from various parties such as Council Members, upper management, traffic engineers, businesses, and taxpayers. Mackenzie exercised her knowledge skillfully and took this project from 0% to 100% in the first year.

Mackenzie successfully collaborated with Lacy Shelby, Principal Urban Designer for the City, and senior staff in Public Works and Community Planning and Economic Development to plan, implement, and execute post-installation analysis.  She also worked with a number of community members to ensure the project met the outlined goals.  Besides the above women mentioned, Mackenzie also worked closely with Council Member Lisa Bender and Council Member Alondra Cano on parklet locations in Wards 10 and 9.

Ray LaHood Award: Paul Danielson, Kimley-Horn

Paul represents the type of industry leader we all can and should strive to be. He may be surprised to be nominated; he’s not a vocal feminist nor is he writing new diversity policies in transportation. What he’s doing—in many ways—is much bigger. It’s bigger because he’s taking direct action to advance the women and minorities on the teams around him. In order to advance WTS’s mission, we need more leaders in the industry like Paul. We need more leaders who indiscriminately mentor young professionals, who build teams with the best men and women for the job, and who lead with integrity. These are the things Paul does so well. What makes him most-deserving of this award is how these qualities have delivered results in advancing women and minorities in transportation. 

Paul delivers results not only on the transit projects he has managed in his 30-year career, but he delivers results by advancing the careers of those around him. Paul has long-supported WTS Minnesota, is a champion of bringing DBE talent to large transit projects, and is supporting a new initiative to increase diversity in transportation through work on the Blue Line Extension Project in Minnesota. With all these commitments, Paul’s legacy will be in his ability to mentor and lead others. The women with whom he works have seen tremendous success in their careers, which is connected to Paul’s ability to lead in a way that lets others’ talents shine.

As a final note, Paul’s leadership story is one that can inspire. It’s one that we can relate to. He’s not the Commissioner of Transportation or an elected politician. He’s an accomplished project manager advancing the careers of others. Ask Paul what he’s passionate about, and he’ll tell you it’s about working with teams to serve his projects.

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