WTS SF Bay Area Chapter Announces 2021 Award Winners Making History in Transportation

San Francisco, CA – (March 8, 2021) It is International Women’s Day and the opportune time to announce the Women’s Transportation Seminar’s (WTS) San Francisco Bay Area Chapter’s illustrious 2021 Award Winners! The WTS Annual Awards celebrate the contributions of people and organizations who work every day to further the WTS mission to attract, sustain, connect and advance women’s careers to strengthen the transportation industry.
These award winners have demonstrated great dedication to supporting projects and programs that advance the role of women, equal opportunity, and equal representation in San Francisco Bay Area transportation. They will be honored by WTS at its annual event to be hosted later this year. Further details on their contributions or award nominations can be provided upon request.

Woman of the Year: Cindy Chavez, President, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors 

Long-time elected official and public servant Cindy Chavez wore two important hats in 2020. She was the President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and served as Chair for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) Board of Directors – both roles made a tremendous impact on transportation, and its response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cindy’s leadership and consistent support as VTA Board Chair reverberated throughout the organization as it struggled with severe ridership and revenue losses, and health threats to frontline workers. As County Board President, she was also everpresent with the duties of running the first county in the nation to order a shutdown to curb the spread of COVID19. Her seemingly boundless time and energy never wavered in leading VTA’s or the County’s critical response to the pandemic.

Even under current conditions, Cindy kept her focus on the future sustainability of transit. Her keen understanding of how a wellconnected, effective transit system can combat climate change led to the VTA Board’s historic Climate Emergency Declaration in February 2020, underscoring the organization’s ongoing work to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and congestion, including an agencywide climate action plan to be completed in 2021.

In addition, her pursuit of the inclusion of women at all levels of public transportation drove recruitment efforts at VTA to bring more women into the folds of transit. VTA’s participation in the Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s career day included videos about women in nontraditional positions, encouraging female students to pursue careers not previously considered.

“I am honored to receive such a prestigious award. Transportation is fundamentally important to achieving equity, to improving quality of life, and to decreasing contributions to climate change. I am humbled to be included in a list of amazing women who have made positive life-changing impacts on the lives of so many through transportation.” – Cindy Chavez

WTS Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award: Lateefah Simon, BART Board Director

Lateefah Simon is a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area. Even before Lateefah was elected in 2016 to serve District 7 on the BART Board of Directors, she was a staunch advocate of transforming BART’s West Oakland Station into a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This project is part of BART’s overall plan to increase ridership and boost revenue, promote reverse commutes and contribute to the vibrancy of the area.

This TOD was significant to a community centered around the Seventh Street corridor, once the epicenter of cultural happenings for Oakland’s Black community but was left devasted after a series of poor economic and policy decisions. Officials long discussed revitalizing West Oakland, but action languished until BART selected a racially and generationally diverse development team to use the 5.5 acres to serve transit and provide a brighter future in West Oakland.

The project made great strides from Lateefah’s role as President of the BART Board. In June 2020, the Board approved a mixed-use TOD on surrounding parking lots at the station, including 762 housing units, 50,000 square feet of retail, and 300,000 square feet of office space. This was made easier because Lateefah promoted the largest project in West Oakland from her seat at the table where decisions are made. She recognized that this development, now called Mandela Station, would make good on the many promises forgotten. This is consistent with her vision as a more progressive board leader who is advocating for low-income fare discounts, civilian ambassadors to supplement the police force, housing on station parking lots, and parking prices that dissuade people from taking their cars.

"It is truly an honor to receive this award, especially during this moment in history. I ran for the BART Board to change the dynamics of transit and to take head on the issues of systemic racism, poverty, and mobility. Like Rosa Parks, the work we do in public transportation gets at the heart of demanding basic dignity. I continue to be inspired by all women in this industry that work so hard, every single day, to advance social justice and new opportunities for women and minorities.” – Lateefah Simon

Member of the Year: Ingrid Supit, Transportation Project Manager, HDR

Ingrid Supit is a Transportation Project Manager at HDR and volunteers as the WTS Chapter’s Corporate & Agency Partnership Program Chair. Since 2016, Ingrid has steadfastly managed this critical role for chapter operations as the corporate arm funds many of the programs and the agency arm provides an avenue for publicsector employees to participate in WTS programs.

As chair, Ingrid works with the 26 partners and multiple chapter committees to make sure that the WTS partners seamlessly receive their benefits throughout the year. Ingrid does this with aplomb and in a collaborative spirit, all as a onewoman committee. The WTS Executive Leadership team is grateful for her hard work and dedication, and is honored to bestow this well-deserved award upon her.

“I am so proud to be part of this great organization that has been doing so much to help women, like me, in their transportation careers by providing opportunities, access and networks. It has been rewarding for me to see how much our chapter has grown since I started with WTS in 2014, and the benefit that many of our fellow professionals have experienced from the programs and events that this organization has offered. Thank you for this honor.” – Ingrid Supit

Honorable Ray LaHood Award: Jim Hartnett, General Manager/CEO, San Mateo County Transit District

Jim Hartnett is the General Manager/CEO for the San Mateo County Transit District, which is also the managing agency for Caltrain as well as the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. Jim is responsible for transportation and mobility services that the Peninsula depends on to fuel economic competitiveness and provide commute alternatives that reduce traffic and serve the most vulnerable members of the community. Since 2015, Jim’s leadership has implemented transformative improvements and achievements including:

  • Securing over $2 billion in local, state, regional and federal funds to prepare the Caltrain corridor for expanded service and the operation of new, high-performance electric trains.
  • The creation of a Caltrain Business Plan that calls for implementation of a 2040 Service Vision that would increase service throughout the corridor and triple ridership.
  • The approval of San Mateo County’s Measure W in 2018, providing approximately $90 million/year for enhanced local and regional transit services, bike and pedestrian improvements, and solutions that address traffic congestion on regional highways and local streets and roads.
  • The approval of Caltrain’s Measure RR in 2020, estimated to provide approximately $100 million/year to invest in the operation and expansion of faster, more frequent electrified service.

This award honors those who have made significant contributions to promoting diversity, inclusion, and multicultural awareness within their organization and the transportation industry. Jim earned this award for his exemplary work in facilitating professional opportunities for women and minorities. Since Jim arrived at the District, women have promoted at a higher rate (37%) in key positions, including directors and above, than the number of women employees in the general population (26%) at AC Transit.

“I will never forget that WTS was the first organization that reached out to me and hosted a ‘get-to-know-you’ session when I first started my CEO position. Powerful. I am flattered and honored by the recognition. Maya Angelou impressively said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapel. Life’s a b… you have to kick a…!” At every level of our organization, we are driven to success by women who kick a…” Thank you WTS for all that you do for all of us.” – Jim Hartnett

WTS Innovative Transportation Solutions Award: San Francisco’s Shared Spaces Program, Mari Hunter, Principal Transportation Planner, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

San Francisco’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force developed the Shared Spaces Program in 2020 – a lifeline to businesses across the city to continue to conduct business during these unprecedented times. Shared Spaces allows neighborhood businesses to share a portion of the public right-of-way, such as sidewalks, full or partial streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas, for restaurant pick-up and other neighborhood retail activity.

Principal Transportation Planner Mari Hunter, along with several other women on the team, took this program from an idea to an extremely productive, working program that has processed thousands of requests for Shared Spaces across the City of San Francisco. Mari stepped into the Policy Manager role to develop and co-manage the Program in a matter of weeks. Perhaps more than any other city program, Shared Spaces has been essential to keeping local businesses open and supporting the city’s neighborhood commercial districts. The team, led by Mari, worked with merchant groups and Board of Supervisors’ offices to resolve challenges presented by sudden changes to street regulations and usage for this creative business model and great use of public space to support the city’s local economic and social life.

“Shared Spaces has been an incredibly rewarding endeavor. Staff from all divisions stepped up and we advanced a program that offers businesses a lifeline during these challenging times. A truly collaborative effort, we work on creative solutions every day to create space for businesses. I am grateful to be part of it and honored to be recognized for it.” – Mari Hunter

WTS Employer of the Year Award: Alameda County Transit (AC Transit), Oakland, CA

Alameda County Transit’s (AC Transit) accomplishments and achievements have been many. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, AC Transit advanced innovative projects to improve service quality and reliability. Nominees in this award category needed to articulate the contributions women in the agency had in the agency’s successes, and AC Transit did not disappoint!

Key initiatives in 2019 and 2020 include: the launch of Tempo, the first Bus Rapid Transit in the East Bay; the move to the Salesforce Transit Center; deployment of double-decker buses; advancements in Zero Emission goals with the introduction of battery electric buses; and the launch of innovative solutions including a new mobile app, new website, and new mobile ticketing payment option.

AC Transit is a major employer in the Bay Area, employing 2,189 people, 850 of which are women. Women hold eight of 17 Executive level and Board member positions. Of 109 senior level positions, 45 are held by women and 18 of 34 Manager positions are held by women. On the front lines, managing daily service, seven of 17 Superintendents are women.

AC Transit’s recently adopted strategic plan sets forth employee recruitment, training and retention as a key initiative. General Manager Michael Hursh established a new training development department focused on supporting AC Transit’s workforce through internal and external professional development opportunities. In early 2020, the Women Leadership In Maintenance (WLIM) Program was launched, focusing on identifying, preparing and promoting women into leadership positions in the maintenance department where women are historically underrepresented in the industry.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Rebecca Kohlstrand and Julie Pierce

Rebecca Kohlstrand is an accomplished, highly respected transportation professional and leader in the Bay Area. She has worked in transportation for over 40 years, with a broad range of experience in project management for multidisciplinary planning teams and implementation of complex transportation projects: Central Subway, BART to Warm Springs, Dumbarton Rail Corridor, and Oakland Airport Connector, to name a few. 

A specific example of Rebecca’s lifework includes her involvement in the California High-Speed Rail project where she served in multiple roles. She built a team to coordinate the regional consultants in the preparation of NEPA/CEQA environmental documents for the nine CHSR sections and subsequently served as Environmental Manager and Director of Projects for Northern California. She provided direction on the preparation of the environmental documents and coordinated the review of these documents with federal, state, and local agencies.

“Having worked with Rebecca extensively on the high-speed rail program, I can attest to her unmatched leadership
skills; technical aptitude, and creative problem-solving. She is a versatile professional and consensus builder with a
unique ability to manage multidisciplinary teams to deliver complex projects.” - Boris Lipkin, Northern California
Regional Director at California High-Speed Rail Authority

Additionally, she has demonstrated a commitment to WTS by advancing the position of women in transportation, evident by her being one of the early founding members of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. After her involvement in the early years of the chapter, Rebecca continued to be involved as a speaker/panelist, advisor, and member throughout her long career. She has also mentored many women throughout her career, including her fellow colleagues, to reach their full professional potential.

Julie Pierce served as an advocate for transportation in Northern California for 33 years, beginning in 1987 when she was appointed to TRANSPAC, the Central Contra Costa Regional Transportation Planning Committee. In 1992, Julie was elected as Council Member for the City of Clayton and appointed Board member of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA). Since then, Julie has served five times as Mayor of Clayton and three times as Chair of CCTA, all while recruiting and mentoring women to run for office and have an impact on the region’s transportation system.

Some of the most notable achievements Julie has led include: extending BART lines east and bringing diesel-powered “eBART” train service to underserved communities; constructing the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore; and making major improvements to State Route 4 to modernize the highway and ease traffic flow.

When she began her public service more than 30 years ago, Julie remembers she was often the only woman in the room where decisions were begin made. Since that time, she has made a concerted effort to encourage women to run for offices that directly impact transportation policy and funding. In fact, she has convinced many women who work in the transportation industry to also run for public office and bring their expertise to the table. Julie has been a tireless champion for women working in the transportation industry by serving as a mentor – and generously sharing her wealth of historical knowledge on transportation issues –helping to elevate the profile of women leaders in transportation, supporting women-led initiatives, and fundraising for efforts that support the development of a talent pipeline for women in the transportation industry.

Katherine G. Johnson Trailblazer Award: Dr. Kimberly Ennico-Smith, NASA

As a woman in science, a mentor, and a science communicator, Dr. Kimberly Ennico-Smith has been effective in making herself available to inspire, engage, and educate others about the wonders of the universe. She has taken initiative to create several hands-on activities when supporting the Tech Time Science Club, a monthly American Association of University Women sponsored project for Girl Scouts grades 4-6 and has been a science fair judge at schools.

Kimberly has inspired audiences with visually captivating talks in schools, public star nights by your local astronomical club, planetariums, science museums, universities, and at professional conferences. Featured on the BBC, PBS, the Atlantic, and in several popular science magazine articles, on-line blogs, interviews, and science chat shows, her approach to science communication makes learning fun and accessible to all.

She epitomizes one of the WTS tenets in professionally developing, mentoring and supporting those who are aspiring to break into the industry with their unbound potential. She makes herself available and keeps in touch with young people, especially girls, who have been pursuing a life of curiosity. She is honest about the sometimes difficult road to navigate in the field of sciences, having experienced firsthand barriers. Her advice is that “you are not alone.” Taking time to talk with friends, developing and nurturing a support network is instrumental to not just survive through ordeals, but enables you to become that element of change towards a more inclusive environment today. Dr. Kimberly Ennico-Smith truly walks this talk!