Inside Seven
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Senior Transportation Engineer Kirsten Stahl, daughter of Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, speaks at the ceremony. Other speakers are (L to R): California Secretary of State Debra Bowen; Dickie Simmons, field representative for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe; Stacey Jones, Director at Large for the Womens Transporation Seminar (WTS); Joya Gilster-Nava, Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG); Tad Teferi, District 7 Deputy of Program and Project Management.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 04/2008

First Lady (engineer) honored for the interchange she designed. Women, and engineers, can be proud.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 dedicated one of the most highly-traveled interchanges in Southern California in honor of its designer, the first female civil engineer registered in the state, at a ceremony on March 14.

The Santa Monica Freeway (I-10)/San Diego Freeway (I-405) junction was renamed the Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Memorial Interchange and new signs reflecting the name change have been installed at the interchange.

The ceremony, held at the Westdale maintenance yard directly under the interchange, featured keynote speaker California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who sponsored the legislation allowing the interchange to be renamed when she was a state senator. "Marilyn's accomplishments inspired not just engineers, but countless women who wanted to go into engineering and other professions yet were hesitant to redraw the boundaries," said California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who is only the sixth woman in California history to be elected to statewide constitutional office.

The Secretary also related an anecdote she was told by one of Reece’s daughters: that the interchange played such a large role in her childhood that she began to think of it as another sibling. Reece’s other daughter, Kirsten Stahl, followed her mother’s footsteps into the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), where she is a senior transportation engineer with District 7.

District 7 Director Doug Failing called Reece “a pioneer in the engineering field, paving the way for the many women who have come after her. The Department is very proud of their contributions, and is working hard to attract even more female engineers.”

Reece began her career with Caltrans (then the Division of Highways) in 1948, shortly after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in civil engineering. She worked as a junior engineer with the Department for six years and then took the civil engineering licensing exam (six years of experience was necessary to qualify), where she was the only woman out of 1,500 applicants. In the early 1960s, she supervised the design of the challenging interchange, including “high speed” ramps engineered to accommodate speeds of up to 55-miles per hour. Tad Teferi, District 7 Program and Project Management Deputy, worked for Reece back in the day. "She was instrumental in guiding and shaping my career," Teferi said. "I was fresh out of college. She encouraged me to get my civil engineering license and made sure my first year at Caltrans was memorable."

Other speakers at the event included Dickie Simmons, field representative for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who was very active in fundraising for the new freeway signs, and representatives from the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG), and Reese’s daughter Kirsten Stahl.

Many Caltrans employees, both active and retired, attended the ceremony including California Transportation Federation (CTC) Executive Officer, former District 7 Director Heinz Heckeroff. The CTC was instrumental in the memorial signs funding effort. PECG provided a generous donation for ceremony refreshments and decorations.

“Being a woman has never hampered my career," Reece said in an article published in 1963. Anyone who has ever taken the I-10/I-405 Interchange can second this assertion.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen lauds the contributions Ms. Reece has made to the advancement of women in male-dominated fields.  Marilyn Jorgenson Reece visits the I-10/I-405 Interchange.during the construction phase. A mock sign is unveiled at the ceremony. (L to R): District 7 Director Doug Failing; District 7 Program and Project Management Deputy Tad Teferi; Joya Gilster-Nava, Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG); California Secretary of State Debra Bowen; Kirsten Stahl and Anne Bartolotti; daughters of Marilyn Reece, Alvin Reece; Stacey Jones, Womens Transportation Seminar (WTS); Dickie Simmons, representing Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. Doug Failing, Caltrans District 7 Director.