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Awards & Recognition

Call for Nominations 

WTS-LA will start accepting nominations for the 2024 awards in Spring! Check back for more information. 

Please take the time to honor and recognize those in our community who are outstanding leaders and organizations in the transportation industry. Awards will be presented at our Annual Scholarship and Awards Dinner in November. 

Detailed awards criteria can be found here.  

2023 Award Winners

Each year, WTS-LA honors achievement in the transportation industry with several awards. Congratulations to our 2023 award winners!

  • Honorable Ray LaHood: Kome Ajise, SCAG
  • Member of the Year: Jenelle Saunders, Berg & Associates
  • Woman of the Year: Sharon Gookin, LA Metro
  • Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership: Blanca Rodriguez, Caltrans District 7
  • Lois Cooper “Going the Distance” Award: Arthur Schurr
  • Educator of the Year: Oliver Rivas, LACES 
  • Employer of the Year: Long Beach Airport

Note: The winning recipients from each WTS chapter may be submitted to WTS International for the International Awards presented at the Annual Conference.

See our 2023 Award recipients below and visit our Archived Articles to read about previous years' recipients. 

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Kome Ajise
Kome Ajise, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) - Honorable Secretary Ray LaHood Award

Named for former USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, the WTS Honorable Ray LaHood Award acknowledges one who has greatly contributed to the advancement of women and minorities in the transportation industry as well as the industry itself.

Kome Ajise is the Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization. SCAG represents one of the largest and most diverse regions in the world, which includes six counties, 191 cities and more than 18 million residents. 

In this role, he leads an organization responsible for regional planning to achieve Southern California’s unified environmental, transportation and housing goals. This includes Connect SoCal, a $639 billion long-range visioning plan with more than 3,500 projects that expand land use and transportation strategies to increase mobility and sustainability in the region.

Ajise has three decades of experience in regional planning and transportation, previously serving as the Chief Deputy Director at the California Department of Transportation. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Regional Planning from the University of Benin, Nigeria and a Master of City and Regional Planning degree from California State University, Fresno. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Mobility 21, an organization dedicated to addressing transportation issues facing Southern California.

 
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Sharon Gookin, LA Metro
Sharon Gookin, LA Metro - Woman of the Year

For more than 30 years, Sharon Gookin has innovated, collaborated, and led the transportation industry. She has demonstrated outstanding expertise in driving major infrastructure projects around the US, using alternative delivery methods. And wherever she goes, she fosters inclusive environments where projects get built on time and on budget, while she creates opportunity for women and minorities to meaningfully participate and advance. Her experience has touched all aspects of project development and execution from environmental clearance through all phases of construction.

Today, Metro is embarking on an $80 billion capital program with $24.5 billion in construction now and $30 billion in planning. Sharon oversees the construction with responsibility for internal cost control, project readiness, and alternative delivery. She also leads an agency-wide Early Intervention Team that brings together staff from a variety of subject matter areas to intervene at different stages of project development. Under her inclusive, steady, calm leadership, that group is tasked with identifying early strategies for greater efficiencies. She is its very active leader, consistently modeling exemplary collaboration and inclusion. Her work here has garnered both her and Metro national attention and interest.

A consummate professional leading high-profile projects and programs, Sharon integrates her belief in equity into each and every one of them. For example, she led the $4.9 billion LAX Automated People Mover P3 Project, the single largest contract ever awarded by the City of Los Angeles and the centerpiece of LAWA’s multi-billion dollar Landside Access Modernization Program. More than 1/3 of her team was composed of women, with most of them in leadership positions.

Throughout her work at Metro, she has avidly and actively supported women and minority subcontractors for Metro’s megaprojects. And when she meets with large contractors, she impresses upon them how effective, efficient, and vital disadvantaged and small businesses—beyond stated goals— are to the success of Metro’s efforts. 

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Jenelle Saunders
Jenelle Saunders, Berg & Associates - Member of the Year

The WTS-LA Member of the Year often holds one character trait above all others—self-sacrifice. They are usually the last person to leave an event or program, because they’ve not only helped make the event succeed, they’ve also helped make sure that every detail is taken care of. They give of themselves relentlessly for the greater good of the chapter.

Her service as WTS-LA President is awe-inspiring, innovative, determined, dynamic, and compassionate, she not only guided the chapter through the COVID pandemic, but the chapter also awarded $100,000 in scholarships each year she was president. The list of achievements and firsts for her presidency is astounding. But she didn’t stop there.

After serving as president, she continues to advance the chapter in a multitude of ways, serving as a past president and the chapter’s Pacific West Region’s LA representative and vice chair. She also uses her knowledge, power, and networking connections to help the chapter grow, prosper, and position itself for the greater good of its members. She also volunteers for many chapter committees, helping formally and informally. Whether advocating through her firm, Berg & Associates, or on her own time, Jenelle always seems to put the chapter first through her work and advocacy.

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Long Beach Airport
Long Beach Airport - Employer of the Year

A WTS-LA Employer of the Year represents something very particular. It does not mean that a business had a great year or that a major capital program was approved or even that they made the cover of Forbes. It’s much more profound than that. Being named Employer of the Year recognizes an organization that ensures fairness and equal opportunity for all employees. It means that fairness and equality are institutionalized so that quotas and guidelines are virtually no longer necessary. In many ways, it’s almost an impossible ideal. Yet that’s exactly what Long Beach Airport has done.

Almost as old as aviation itself and celebrating its 100th birthday this year, Long Beach Airport boasts a storied history and is an indispensable and valued community hub for Long Beach. Last year, Condé Nast Traveler magazine named the airport as one of the Top 10 airports in the country. But there’s something else that makes this airport unique. It is a model for fairness and equity with a work environment and culture to be celebrated.

Long Beach Airport supports its employees comprehensively. From exemplary professional development to participation in the City of Long Beach’s Women’s Leadership Initiative to the airport’s tireless support and participation in WTS-LA, Long Beach Airport lives the ideal of equality. Through their work with WTS-LA and other organizations, they are training the next generation of aviation transportation professionals.

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WTSLA 2022 Award Recipient_Lopes Caldwell
 
Michelle Lopes-Caldwell, Foothill Transit - Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award

WTS-LA annually bestows this award on a deserving transportation professional because of their demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and their unique ability to act on that commitment despite obstacles and odds. WTS-LA honors Foothill Transit Director of Finance Michelle Lopes Caldwell, a woman who not only extols those virtues but lives them and has throughout her extensive career. LINK to the full article. 

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WTSLA 2022 Award Recipient_Kosinski
Ron Kosinski, Caltrans - Lois Cooper “Going the Distance” Award

This year, WTS-LA recognizes Caltrans Environmental Planning Deputy District Director Ronald Kosinski with the WTS-LA Lois Cooper Going the Distance Award for his nearly six-decade career in public service. Read the full article here

 

Sixth Street Viaduct, City of Los Angeles - Innovative Transportation Solution Award

More than 30 women actively participated in key roles in this transformative project. The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering’s Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project brilliantly redefines the concept of innovation. WTS-LA recognized this project with the 2022 WTS-LA Innovative Transportation Solutions Award.  Link to read more. 

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WTS-LA Awardee: 6th St. Bridge. Photo by Gary Leonard courtesy of LABOE
Photo by Gary Leonard courtesy of City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering