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ARTBA Honors Women Leaders in Transportation Design and Construction

Wed September 14, 2011 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Seven industry professionals and organizations were recognized Sept. 7 for their “extraordinary leadership and dedication to innovation in the transportation construction field, as well as the promotion of women leaders within the industry,” during a special event hosted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

The inaugural 2011 ARTBA “Women Leaders in Transportation Design & Construction Awards” included three categories and were presented during a gala dinner at ARTBA’s “TransOvation Workshop,” held at the Lansdowne Resort & Conference Center near Dulles Airport in Virginia.

Ethel S. Birchland Lifetime Achievement Award

Named after ARTBA’s executive director from the mid-1920s, it is given to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and long-term service in the industry’s public or private sectors.

Catherine Connor, senior vice president and manager of federal government affairs for Parsons Brinckerhoff

Connor directs the company’s federal legislative, regulatory and political activities in Washington, D.C. She serves on numerous committees and coalitions that advance the cause of the transportation construction industry, including ARTBA, the American Public Transportation Association, American Council of Engineering Companies, American Society of Civil Engineers, Coalition for America’s Gateways and the Construction Industry Roundtable.

In 2009, she received a prestigious company-wide award for her efforts to educate employees about the benefits of civic and political engagement. Connor also is a founding member of Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Women’s Outreach Network, through which she mentors women within her firm and advises senior management on women’s initiatives.

Kathleen Buck Holst, RoadSafe Traffic Systems senior vice president

Holst is a successful business woman who founded Alternate Construction Controls Inc. in 1988. She sold the company in 1999, which is today known as RoadSafe Traffic Systems Inc. and is based in Romeoville, Ill. She served as the company’s COO. Holst, an ARTBA director, was recently named a senior vice president, charged with driving the firm’s geographic expansion and development of new services and products.

She has been a long-time industry safety leader, serving as the first woman president of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) and the first woman president of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association (IRTBA). Under her leadership, the IRTBA developed its first formal succession plan and adopted modern association governance policies.

A 2005 breast cancer survivor, Holst advocates for the early detection of breast cancer and has been a top fundraiser for breast cancer research through the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in Chicago.

The Glass Hammer Award

It honors companies in the transportation construction industry that have innovative programs and activities directed at successfully promoting women leaders within their organization.


AECOM, a global planning and design firm, has dedicated significant resources to creating programs that promote the advancement of women within the transportation construction industry. In 2010, the firm launched its Global Women’s Council, which acts as a “change agent” focusing on improving retention, development and advancement of women within the company. Last year, AECOM also established the North America Women’s Leadership Collaborative (WLC), consisting of more than 300 employee “volunteers” who encourage diversity and collaboration through activities such as mentoring and networking. The WLC also offers innovative development programs, such as diversity awareness, leadership coaching, public speaking and professional branding.

Corman Construction Inc.

While men kept a management stronghold in the male-dominated construction industry, Annapolis-Junction, Md.-based Corman Construction stepped outside conventional boundaries and hired its first woman engineer 30 years ago. What emerged from this monumental step was unprecedented support by executive management from within Corman Construction to promote women leaders. Today, the firm’s roster holds six female project engineers, three female executive managers and nine females in non-traditional roles with tenures spanning 5 to 31 years. Corman provides its women employees with support and training opportunities needed to move up the corporate ladder, including a program where professional engineers (PE) within the firm mentor colleagues in pursuit of their registered PE license.

Texas Transportation Institute

The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), based in College Station, has developed multiple programs to provide a pipeline for leadership opportunities, continued professional development and career advancement. TTI created a diversity Web site to connect new female employees and their families in order to facilitate information exchange, enhance support and provide a sense of community. TTI also established a partnership with, to expand the scope and reach of its recruitment efforts. The efforts have paid off since TTI’s budgeted workforce is now nearly 50 percent female.

Future Industry Spotlight Award

It recognizes students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate studies at a U.S. college or university who have achieved an outstanding academic record and demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills within and outside the academic environment.

Mary Robbins

Mary Robbins is a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering at Auburn University, focusing on pavement materials. Her research is dedicated to improving roadway networks through innovative use of materials and technology. She has an M.S. in civil engineering from Auburn and a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Toledo. In her spare time, Robbins is involved with the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, an organization that tackles engineering issues for communities in need.

Her interest in pavement research came from her experience working at the Ohio Department of Transportation after college, where she spent time working at bridge and roadway construction sites. After completing her doctorate, she hopes to secure a position that allows her to further the development of the nation’s transportation infrastructure by way of pavement design.

Dimitra Michalaka

Dimitra Michalaka is pursuing a Ph.D. in transportation engineering at the University of Florida. She has an M.S. in civil engineering from Florida and an undergraduate diploma in civil engineering from the National Technical University of Athens. She is one of the founding members of the University of Florida’s Women’s Transportation Seminar Student Chapter, and is leading the chapter’s effort to introduce transportation engineering to middle school and high school girls.

Michalaka works as project manager of a CMS/ FDOT funded research project focusing on ways to provide alternatives to travelers and increase transportation funds through congestion pricing and demand management strategies. She strives to be a leader in the transportation field, working to improve the movement of people and goods, and continue her research and implementation of HOT lanes and other classes of managed lanes.

The awards program is a signature initiative of the association’s Women Leaders in Transportation Design & Construction Council, which promotes “leadership and career advancement for women in the industry through mentoring, recognition, educational activities and networking.”

Established in 1902, ARTBA is the transportation design and construction industry’s voice in the Nation’s Capital.

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