When Women Lead: Strategies to Advance Equity

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

11:00a.m.-12:00p.m. (PT) | Link to register

In celebration of Women’s History Month, join the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) for a conversation with a diverse panel of women transportation leaders representing academia, public and private industries, and the nonprofit sectors as they share personal stories from their careers and lessons learned as they rose to the top. 

Moderated by April Rai, CEO of COMTO and a member of the MTI Board of Trustees, this webinar delves into a critical issue faced by the transportation industry: How are we prioritizing women and other traditionally underrepresented voices to build the most inclusive and effective transportation workforce for our future? What can their success stories teach us about the values of empowering women? 


  • Melissa Figueroa, Chief of Strategic Communications, California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA)

  • Dr. Karen Philbrick, Executive Director, Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI)

  • Kimberly Slaughter, CEO, SYSTRA USA

  • Lynda Tran, Director of Public Engagement & Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)

Moderator: April Rai, President & CEO, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO)

*1 PDH credit available

This event is co-sponsored by COMTO and WTS San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

PDH Certificate

View Recording


About the Panelists

  • Melissa Figueroa, Chief of Strategic Communications, California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA)

As the Chief of Strategic Communications, Melissa oversees the communications branches for media, stakeholder engagement, special projects, and outreach. Melissa previously served as CalSTA’s Deputy Secretary of Communications and Strategic Planning; Deputy Secretary of Communications and External Affairs at the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency; and Deputy Secretary of Communications at the State and Consumer Services Agency. Before beginning work in the state’s executive branch, Melissa worked within the Legislature as Press Secretary for California State Senator Joe Simitian. Figueroa graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2002 with a degree in Journalism. She served as a student representative on the department’s advisory board and now serves on the Cal Poly Journalism Advisory Board.

Karen Philbrick is the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San José State University, a position she has held since 2014. MTI leads three multi university competitively selected consortia: the Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility (MCTM) funded by the US Department of Transportation, the California State University Transportation Consortium (CSUTC) funded by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (CA Senate Bill 1) and the Climate Change and Extreme Events Training and Research Program funded by the Federal Railroad Administration. 

Dr. Philbrick has received many prestigious awards for her leadership excellence and outstanding contributions to her field. She received the CUTC Administrative Leadership award, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) named Dr. Philbrick a “Woman Who Moves the Nation,” the Silicon Valley Business Journal named Dr. Philbrick 1 of the 100 Women of Influence in Silicon Valley.

Kimberly Slaughter has been involved in the development of mobility solutions for over 30 years and has a wealth of experience in the transportation industry, working for planning, architecture/engineering consulting firms and public transportation providers. She is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin with an MSc in Community and Regional Planning. Kim was appointed to head the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) subcommittee for the Mobility Restoration & Recovery Task Force. Kim has also served on the APTA Board of Directors and Business Members Board of Governors, Business Council of the African American Mayors Association, Women’s Transportation Seminar, and Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

  • Lynda Tran, Director of Public Engagement & Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)

Lynda Tran serves as Director of Public Engagement and Senior Advisor to the Secretary. A longtime organizer and communicator with over two decades experience in policy, advocacy, and campaigns, Lynda returns to DOT after co-founding 270 Strategies, where she developed public engagement strategies for clients across the globe – including the Environmental Defense Fund, Oxfam America, United Way Worldwide, FAMM, the Black Economic Alliance, and the Economic Security Project. Recently, she was a senior strategist for Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy and served on the Board of Advisors for Higher Ground Labs and Battleground Texas. A CBS News Political Contributor through the 2020 cycle, she previously led teams for Organizing for America, then-Governor Tim Kaine, and SEIU.

  • (Moderator) April Rai, President & CEO, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO)

April joined COMTO in December 2021 as President and CEO with nearly 20 years of experience managing private, public sector and non-profit organizations. Previously, April served as Deputy Executive Director for Women’s Transportation Seminar International (WTS), leading the management of operations, staffing and program management for 65 chapters across North America. Prior to joining WTS, April served as the CEO for the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), a coalition of over 100 organizations and agencies dedicated to youth health and safety education. April’s current appointments include Board Member, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Board Member, Mineta Transportation Institute and numerous transportation related advisory boards.



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