2023 40 Under 40: Kimiya Rae Aghevli Darrell

Aug. 22, 2023
Kimiya Rae Aghevli Darrell, Vice President/Transportation Planner, WSP USA

One word to describe yourself: Positive

Alma Mater: University of Virginia (BA) and Johns Hopkins University (MPP)

Fast fact about yourself: I absolutely love to entertain. Planning events and throwing parties fills me with unharnessed joy.

What’s your best experience on transit and what made it memorable?: While I was getting my master’s degree, I went to a conference in Portland, Ore.,focused on making cities more vibrant and livable. With lots of free time to explore (but not a lot of money to spend), I went all over Portland on TriMet, which was easy to navigate and let me quickly explore a new city solo. The content of the conference and the experience of walking and riding around a new place was really powerful.

Kimiya Rae Aghevli Darrell stands as the current vice president, transportation planner at WSP USA and as an emerging professional in the transportation planning, operations and safety field, performing for a variety of transit organizations in the mid-Atlantic region.

In her current position, she is responsible for the overall success of her team and brings a strong background in program analysis and project management, as well as strategic planning for transportation agencies and city governments.

Her leadership position with WSP allows her to interact with her staff and colleagues and bring positive change. This is apparent in the way colleagues have described her as a team-player who’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work on any task, regardless of significance or budget; a motivator who can encourage and cheer her team onward to successes they couldn’t imagine at the outset and a brilliant mind, precise, insightful and analytical in ways that advances projects to the highest quality.

 She has made a name for herself as someone who challenges the status quo for how high-stakes transportation consulting and management of high-performing young professionals should be done: With empathy, compassion and a willingness to step back and listen.

 Even with a packed schedule, she finds time to connect with her staff, engage with her community and prioritize her family. Her honest and open leadership style empowers her team, especially those who didn’t come from “in-the-know” backgrounds, to use their diverse experiences and many strengths to better serve others. Her work is enhanced by her ability to know and understand the nuances of the issues at hand, whether it’s a systemic failure in policy at the regional level, or it’s a colleague upset over a miscommunication at the office.

 Her thorough understanding of the varied needs of riders and transit professionals alike uniquely positions her to build community and consensus on projects and enables her to critically evaluate the impacts that potential decisions can have on either side. Darrell has also been an incredibly passionate and empathetic leader seeking to empower her team, especially women, people of color and people from nontraditional backgrounds, to take on tasks and offer effective support to build their successes. Her keen eye for opportunity and foundational projects has allowed her team to be more proactive in their positions and investigate ways to improve transit in impactful and immediate ways. Darrell enthusiastically encourages everyone she encounters to be their best selves and is personally demonstrative of how women can achieve their personal and professional goals through her community engagement and commitment to family outside of the office. Darrell’s skills reflect her success in both endeavors, like patience, empathy, flexibility, along with a healthy sense of humor. Her strong leadership skills, character and efforts towards the transit ind.ustry have already been noticed by others in the industry. Darrell has been recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with the Gold Award for Safety for Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration's Safety Rules and Compliance Program in 2015; WSP USA's Client Success Award for BaltimoreLink in 2018 and has been recognized for her work to support the development of APTA and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's report, "The COVID-19 Pandemic – Public Transportation Responds: Safeguarding Riders and Employees" (2020). She received the Association for Commuter Transportation 40 Under 40 award in 2020. Darrell also received the Outstanding Team Builder Award from WSP in 2021.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I am fortunate to work in a team and with clients who bring both passion and humor to tackle projects and problems, which is a powerful combination! This creates days full of comradery and collaboration as we work to plan and implement impactful projects. I am also really lucky to work on a variety of project types – two of my favorite things I work on are planning and executing meaningful public and stakeholder engagement, and discretionary funding applications. While they might seem really different, they are both at the core about finding the story of a project and telling it in a way that resonates.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Slowing down and carving out time to focus on big picture strategic goals and activities without being distracted by everyday “fire drills.” Balancing my own project work with team/staff mentorship and management can be tough! However, it is also what has really driven me to build an amazing team around me and strengthen my delegation skills; the latter is still a work in progress!

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

While not quite an accomplishment, I am proud of two commitments I made to myself some time back and on which I have really followed: The first is to speak up on behalf of those who are not in the room (literally or figuratively). In an industry that is still quite dominated by men, I am often one of few or even the only woman in meetings. I am confident enough – and therefore feel a responsibility – to respectfully draw attention to the voices who may be missing from the conversation. The number of times I have gotten affirming messages from female colleagues who are not as comfortable speaking up bolsters my commitment that it is important and needed. The second is to give the compliments I think or say “behind people’s backs” to them! I have made it a true habit to shoot someone an email, a text, or a phone call to share the praise I have found myself thinking or telling someone else to the person who’s earned the kudos. Even small compliments that help someone feel seen and appreciated can transform someone’s day or week, so making sure I am sharing with them (and their leadership!) has really gone a long way to help me build trusting, respectful relationships with colleagues at all stages of their careers. I really believe that together we can create the kind and supportive work culture in which we want to live – and thrive!

Best advice to share from your area of expertise?

Never think you will look dumb for saying you don’t know something – asking LOTS of questions helps you grow faster and also builds relationships and trust. Anyone who judges you or makes you feel small for not knowing something has their priorities all wrong, so do you best to surround yourself with people who share your sense of curiosity and support your growth.

About the Author

Eman Abu-Khaled | Associate Editor

Eman Abu-Khaled is a recent graduate of Kent State University with a bachelors in journalism. She works through Endeavor Business Media with Mass Transit as an associate editor. Abu-Khaled brings a fresh perspective to the visual side of journalism with an interest in video and photography work.