News | Students Attend WTS-LA Luncheon, Boots on the Ground, Flats in the Boardroom: Transportation Women Tell Their Stories

Stop the Video



by By  Arpita Sharma , MPP/MPL 2017

Ten undergraduate and graduate level students from the University of Southern California attended the September 30 WTS Los Angeles panel luncheon, thanks to the generosity of sponsors Alexandra Spencer, infrastructure sector publicist at Alexandra Spencer Public Relations; Lou Cornell, vice president, Jacobs Engineering Group; and Elizabeth Levin, president of Liz Levin and Company.

Levin and BART general manager Grace Crunican, co-authors of Boots on the Ground, Flats in the Boardroom, organized a panel of three of the women profiled in their book—all leaders in the transportation field—to speak about their unique experiences navigating careers and families and provide advice to young women and men entering the workforce. Students who attended the luncheon also received a complimentary copy of the book. The panelists included Dana C. Hook, PE, vice president with CDM Smith, LaVerne Francis Reid, retired Federal Aviation Administration airports division manager for the New England Region, and Mary Jane O’Meara, former director of the famous Tobin Bridge and associate vice president with HNTB Corporation in Boston. Crunican served as moderator.

Dana Hook told attendees, “Do what is right for you and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.” In the book, she showcased how she has successfully lived this statement in her own life. She received a college degree in engineering and married at the age of 22. Because her husband earned $200 more annually than she did, she quit her job to raise their children. She later realized that she was lesbian and found love in another partner, all while reentering the workforce as an engineer after a 15-year gap. Hook was able to successfully navigate these changes through self-confidence, hard work, and a strong network of supportive personal and professional relationships. 

LaVerne Francis Reid shared a strong piece of advice with the audience: “You can either be an agent of change or a victim of change.” Reid, an African-American woman born in the South during a period of segregation in the 1940s, exemplifies this statement. She has faced the challenges of race, class, and gender to become a successful career woman. She started her career in transportation when she was recruited by the Federal Aviation Association and became a realty clerk during the late 1960s. She became one of the first female, African-American air traffic controllers while facing great struggles in her family and personal life. Reid continued along her path and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Alaska, and earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. In 1988, President George H. W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. Small Business Administration Advisory Council. 

Mary Jane O’Meara, a tough negotiator who earned the respect of her colleagues and faced significant ethical dilemmas in the workplace, advised to always “do what you feel is important.” In 1984, O’Meara was brought on as a chief railroad services officer at the MBTA, and later transitioned to assistant project manager. She became operations manager and then director at the Tobin Bridge (a post she held for 18 years), and subsequently served as executive director at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, where she oversaw the ending of her own job. Through experience, hard work, and a no-nonsense attitude, O’Meara has successfully transitioned to associate vice president at the HNTB Corporation’s Boston branch. 

When asked about her motivation for writing the book, Grace Crunican shared, “There is nothing in the transportation realm that a woman can’t do. There are two limits on them: one is presenting opportunities to women to step in, and two, it's up to the individual women to see the opportunities and seize them, or create the opportunities. There is a place for all genders, races, talents, and interests in the transportation industry, and women should be able to see themselves in the industry and at every level in the industry.” 

Liz Levin voiced a similar concern. “I figured out early that if there weren’t more women in the room, above me or following me, it would not be the kind of place where it would be true equal opportunity. I got engaged in organizing women, in caring about women and how we were treated. I understood that the structure was not welcoming. The women you saw or met were only at the lower level.” Levin shared that she became involved with WTS early on in her career and has served as WTS International president and chair of the WTS International Advisory Board. 

“Kids in high school, kids in college (and beyond) hunger for the stories of people who have made it to significant positions,” Crunican added. “We want to get these women’s stories out for younger women to see.”

Both women feel it is essential for women to participate in the field of transportation. “If you don’t have diversity in the people in the room, it's harder to have more interesting views, and better results,” Levin said.

Photo Credit: Koop Films

Copies of Boots on the Ground, Flats in the Boardroom can be purchased on Amazon:

Arpita Sharma

Arpita Sharma is a dual Master of Public Policy and Master of Planning Candidate at the USC Price School. She is interested in issues of health inequities, sustainable land use development and active transportation. She expects to complete her degrees in May 2017. She can be reached at or at [email protected].