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Remarks at the WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar) - DC Chapter’s 40th Anniversary Celebration and Woman of the Year Award Ceremony, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Washington, DC

​Good evening, everyone!  Thank you for that kind introduction and it is very exciting to see so many colleagues here tonight.  I also feel privileged to be here this evening with these distinguished award recipients.  I am extremely honored to receive the Woman of the Year award because it comes from the WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar), an organization that has had such a positive influence on transportation around the world and specifically, through the Washington, DC Chapter.  WTS is known as a place where women - and men - can come to support each other and support the important roles that we can ALL play in advancing transportation.  I also admire the strong emphasis this chapter has placed on helping young professionals advance, something I also have tried to do, in honor of those who helped me so much when I was a young professional.

Perhaps because I started my work in transportation via the public health sector, rather than in a more traditional transportation job, I learned about the important work of the WTS rather later in my career, unlike those of you who have benefitted from mentorship by WTS members early in your careers.

Before I joined the NTSB, when I worked closely with the United Nations (UN) for many years, I remember hearing about WTS from a member, Dr. Heather Rothenberg.  I was organizing a panel about women’s issues in transportation for a large UN conference in New York several years ago and I placed a single call to Heather.  This quickly resulted in my having a wonderful and diverse panel of world experts on key issues facing women in transportation – from safety to security to access to training.  It was a very popular and well-regarded event that year at the UN.  That is the power of the WTS!

My focus in transportation always has been safety and, of course, I am now privileged to serve as a Board Member at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – an independent federal agency.  I am happy to be joined tonight by my colleague, John Brown.  If you know the NTSB, you may be most familiar with us in our dark blue jackets with the bright yellow letters spelling out NTSB when we are at the scene of transportation disasters, or perhaps you are more familiar with our detailed investigations, or our safety recommendations, which we make to government, industry, and others who can help advance transportation safety.  I am the only woman on the NTSB Board currently, but we have many highly competent women serving as investigators, lawyers, family assistance experts, engineers, office directors, and other roles integral to the NTSB.

Receiving the WTS-DC Woman of the Year Award is particularly meaningful to me this year because this has been quite a busy year for both the NTSB and for me personally.  This year, I have served in various roles - as Vice Chairman, Acting Chairman, and Board Member.  I have spoken out on topics that have not been particularly popular.  A few areas that come to mind are:  assisting the State of Utah in passing the first .05 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) law in the nation, working with members of industry to increase awareness about having event data recorders in business jets and voyage data recorders in marine vessels, and the necessity of installing positive train control in our rail systems.  These topics are not always popular, but they are important to me because they are important to safety.

I grew up as the youngest child with three older brothers.  Now, older brothers are naturally bossy anyway, but all of MY three older brothers became surgeons!  So you can just imagine…at an early age, I had to learn to speak up.  My brothers were bossy but they also provided a relatively safe environment for me to practice speaking up about and defending what I thought was important.  I think that is also a key reason that the WTS is effective and important.

For 40 years, you have provided a safe environment where transportation professionals – women and men - can discuss topics across sectors, learn from each other, and take that knowledge back to their workplace and speak up about what is important.  Thank you, WTS-DC, for this Woman of the Year award, thank you for your vital role in advancing the role of women in the transportation sector, and Happy 40th Anniversary.