2024 Award Recipients

Woman of the Year - Emily McGraw

Emily McGraw, PE, CPM currently is the Director of Highway Operations, where she oversees the State Transportation Asset Manager, Structures Management Unit, Roadside Environmental Unit and Operations Unit.  Emily has been with NCDOT for her 25-year career and has served in many roles, working her way up from her start as an intern, and she has brought joy and dedication to every one of her roles.  

Emily has given her time and talents to many professional organizations at the state and national level, including serving on Transportation Research Board (TRB) committees, the NC LTAP Advisory Board, and AASHTO committees.  She is also a WTS member and recently jumped back in to volunteer her time mentoring and participating in the local chapter’s TransportationYOU program. 

Emily’s work specifically in hurricane response and disaster recovery, fostering partnerships with FEMA, FHWA, and North Carolina Emergency Management, has helped the state become a leader in that area. 

Emily actively mentors young women in her unit and encourages participation in professional organizations.  She leads by example and is a steady presence providing guidance where needed and providing opportunity for people to learn. She has a unique ability to build strong effective teams and to give them room to grow. She is a role model to all in her sphere.


Rookie of the Year - Tanya Thompson

Tanya Thompson is a NEPA planner with DRMP. She received her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of South Carolina. With five years of experience, Tanya has been involved in the preparation of various environmental documents, community impact assessments, and public engagement throughout the southeast.

Her commitment to excellence and continuous learning was recognized last May when she received her AICP certification. She finds fulfillment in collaborating with local stakeholders and the public, ensuring that projects not only meet regulatory standards but also benefit the community at large.

In 2021, Tanya became a member of WTS and quickly assumed the role of Membership Chair. Her leadership within the organization has been characterized by a genuine enthusiasm for connecting with both new and established members, fostering a sense of community and collaboration. Tanya actively participates in the NCSITE mentoring program, demonstrating her commitment to professional development and mentorship within the transportation industry.

In her free time, Tanya enjoys outdoor activities, traveling, and spending time with her dog, Rowe.

Looking ahead, Tanya is excited about the opportunities that North Carolina holds for her career growth. She is grateful for the mentorship and support she has received thus far and is eager to continue building strong relationships within the industry. Through her work, she hopes to make a positive impact on both the community and transportation field.

Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award - Nicole Bennett

Nicole Bennett, AICP, is a proud daughter of Bertie County, North Carolina. Raised in a home that deeply valued hard work, education, and the inherent dignity of all people. Her experiences growing up poor in rural, northeastern North Carolina gave her firsthand knowledge of the stark divide between those with means and those without means, and how those disparities often correlated with race.

Nicole was blessed with an exceptional opportunity to attend high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham. She then pursued her higher education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning an undergraduate degree in Economics and a Masters Degree in Planning. Even with miles separating her from her hometown, the people and the spirit of Bertie County were with her. She resolved to champion efforts addressing equity and justice to remove many of the barriers she witnessed and experienced growing up and throughout her academic journey.

Thirty years later, Nicole now leads equity strategy – a position she pioneered - at VHB. Her position allows her to do what she has done her entire career but now full-time with intention! She helps teams weave equity into their projects, by acknowledging and addressing disparities created and perpetuated by past policies, practices, and projects. In addition, she helps teams develop actionable strategies to not only protect vulnerable communities from future harm but to ensure that they thrive economically, environmentally and socially. Whether she is strategizing about how to integrate health equity in transportation projects or developing anti-displacement policies for a neighborhood experiencing development pressures from a new transit project, Nicole is committed to equity full-time. And the people of Bertie County are always with her.

Equity is not just a profession for Nicole. It is the essence of who she is. Many of her volunteer commitments are aimed at dismantling inequitable systems and inspiring young planners to do the same. She co-leads the Mid-Atlantic Equity Team at VHB. She is a founding member of the WTS Triangle Chapter, serving previously on the Board as scholarship chair. She holds the position of second vice president in the newly re-activated COMTO North Carolina chapter and sits on COMTO’s national Legislative Advisory Council.

While serving as a member of the American Planning Association’s Legislative Committee, she helped develop APA’s Planning for Equity Policy Guide. She is currently in her second term on APA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. She helped create Spaces and Places, a grassroots collective of planners, urbanists, and designers that amplifies issues related to equity, engagement, and environmental justice in communities of color through ”unconference” events across the US and virtual events with international reach.

Locally, Nicole was recently reappointed by the Raleigh City Council to her third term on the city’s Planning Commission, where she is a consistent voice for equity. In her first year on the Commission, she was instrumental in integrating equity considerations into rezoning cases and comprehensive plan policies.

Most importantly, Nicole is the proud Mom of Joseph, a senior at Leesville Road High School, and Zoë, a junior Neuroscience major at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Innovative Transportation Solutions Award - Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) Program

NCDOT's Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) is the state's flagship connected and automated vehicle pilot program. CASSI introduces the public to automated vehicle technology through free shared rides and showcases how the technology works for public transportation now and its potential as an innovative mobility option as the technology matures. Through strong partnerships with communities, university partners, technology vendors, and consultant support and by collecting feedback from the public through surveys and engagement events, NCDOT has developed robust analyses, findings, and lessons learned on low-speed automated shuttles with connected vehicle features that help guide how the technology can best be used now and evolved to better meet the needs of all riders. CASSI provides a successful model for researching, piloting, and evaluating new and emerging technologies. NCDOT has incrementally increased the complexity of its projects under the CASSI program since its start in 2020 to build on successes and lessons learned. CASSI continues to incorporate the latest technological advancements to determine their near- and long-term benefits for public transportation. Future investigations are expected to include connectivity and automation in conventional vehicles, including full-size buses and vans, with a focus on meeting the needs of transportation disadvantaged and rural populations.

Honorable Ray LaHood Award - Brian Speight 

Brian Speight, PE is a Division General Manager and Sr Vice-President for Mott MacDonald.  Brian received an AS in Business Management from Chowan College ’91 and a BSCE from NC State University ’94 and has been practicing engineering for 30 years.  Brian joined Gibson Engineers 2008 which in 2010 became Mott MacDonald.  Since 2010, Brian has been heavily involved in NCDOT’s multi-modes as Program Manager for multiple federally funded grant programs.  

Currently, Brian is the Division General Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region encompassing 7 states and 100+ employees.  Previous positions included Roadway Design Project Engineer at Arcadis, Roadway Design Manager at Sepi and Site Civil Engineer and partner of Chandler Palmer Speight Engineers, PA.

October of this year will be Brian and Anna’s 29th wedding anniversary.  They have 3 children, a set of boy-girl twins that are now 23 and recent graduates of NC State and UNC Charlotte and the youngest is 16 and is a Junior at Wake Forest High School.  

Employer of the Year - Wetherill Engineering

Wetherill Engineering is a woman-owned business and small professional services firm founded in 1993 to serve North Carolina’s transportation needs. Since then, the company has grown to over ninety professionals in three North Carolina offices – Raleigh, Charlotte, and Hickory.  As a woman-owned company, Wetherill Engineering and President Debora Wetherill have strived to be a strong advocate for women in the firm, making sure salaries are equitable and the Board composition is representative.  

Wetherill Engineering offers women many career development tools, including an Educational Assistance Plan to obtain additional certifications and degrees, Civic and Community Involvement Leave, and paid maternity leave.  They support leadership development through mentoring, workshops, and continuing education and they have an active college intern program.  

Outside of the company, Wetherill Engineering supports WTS as a Patron sponsor of the Triangle Chapter and encourages their employees to be active in the Triangle and Charlotte Chapters. They offer full reimbursement of dues and encourage involvement and attendance at events. 

Wetherill also promotes STEM initiatives. They have provided guest lectures at K-12 schools, NC State, and Wake Tech Community College to encourage more females to enter the transportation field.  They are currently working with student chapters at North Carolina A&T University and NC State, including the Society of Women Engineers and the NC State Engineering Interest Circles to provide mock interview/resume reviews.

Friend of the Organization - Joey Hopkins

In October 2023, Joey Hopkins became the secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation. As transportation secretary, Hopkins manages one of the largest state-maintained highway systems in the nation, and all modes of transportation, including aviation, ferries, rail, public transit and bicycle and pedestrian transportation, as well as the Office of Civil Rights and Division of Motor Vehicles.  

Hopkins is a registered professional engineer and has worked at NCDOT for more than 30 years in a variety of roles. Before being named secretary, Hopkins served as NCDOT’s chief operating officer. He has also served as deputy chief engineer and has held the roles of division engineer, deputy division engineer, division maintenance engineer and division operations engineer in Division 5.  

He was a member of NCDOT’s Transformation Management Team and was instrumental in developing the Strategic Prioritization Process, the forerunner of the Strategic Mobility Formula. This data driven process is used to help prioritize transportation projects in North Carolina.  The Strategic Transportation Investments Law passed in 2013 allows NCDOT to use existing funding more efficiently and effectively to enhance North Carolina’s infrastructure, while supporting economic growth, job creation and improved quality of life. 

Hopkins is a graduate of N.C. State University. He is a member of Amelia Christian Church in Clayton and is a member and past President of the Clayton Civitan Club. He lives in Garner with his wife Terry, a retired NCDOT engineer, and their two sons, Kelly and Billy.