If Lakish Vanzant’s world was crumbling around her, you’d never know it.
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The Chicago track supervisor works hard to make every encounter at Union Pacific a positive one.
“Progress is better than perfection,” Vanzant said. “You have to find a way to connect.”
Also known as ‘LV,’ she works as a rules and safety trainer, conducting field audits and exercises across Union Pacific’s network. Those that know her best say her positive demeanor allows her to connect with employees in a meaningful way. That, in turn, helps them better understand both the how and the why behind railroad safety protocols.
“I see incidents and I just want to prevent them,” she said. “The best I can do to stop that from happening; I want to be a part of that process.”
Vanzant started her Union Pacific career in Dolton, Illinois, in 2013, and has always viewed safety as a top priority.
For example, in Engineering, craft professionals facilitate MAPS classes.
Vanzant has been a leader in this process, guiding more than 50 employees though MAPS training since July 2020. She’s also led the Southern Region’s ESPAR (Engineering Safety Process Accountability Review) audits, helping teams prepare and prevent unforeseen violations through correction action training.
“Culture change is a major deal on any career level,” Vanzant said. “As long as we try to work together and adapt as fast as the times we live in, we won’t be left behind and we can win as one.”
For her efforts, Vanzant was recognized with Union Pacific’s highest individual honor, the J.C. Kenefick Safety Award.
She is the second Engineering employee to accept the honor.
“It means everything to me,” Vanzant said. “I feel J.C. Kenefick was about closing the gap. That’s what I want to be a part of.”
Her teammates said the recognition is well deserved.
“LV possesses the most positive outlook on life,” said Mark Montoya, manager-Track Compliance, Engineering. “And I think that has helped mold her into a natural leader on the ground that can inspire people moving forward.”
Montoya recounted a time when she changed an entire room of employees’ perception.
The two were visiting a workgroup and identified several at-risk safety behaviors. As Vanzant talked through areas of concern, the conversation quickly turned contentious. By the end of the discussion, people were smiling and shaking hands with those they had communication gaps with.
“To sit back and see the power of the emotional touch that LV handled that with, that’s huge,” Montoya said.
It’s a sentiment also shared by Ashley Glover, director-Track Maintenance, Engineering.
“Her passion for safety is phenomenal,” Glover said. “She’s always willing to jump in and help wherever needed, and to have that type of interaction with an employee, it comes off very well.”
The 2021 J.C. Kenefick Safety Award marks what would’ve been the 100th birthday of John C. Kenefick, the award’s namesake.
Vanzant said she is honored, but wants to remain grounded as she looks to improve on Union Pacific’s safety standards.
“My goal is always just to do better, make sure we create the safety aspect across the country,” Vanzant said. “UP is my other family, so if I care about my family and what we do at home, then I definitely want to care about what we do at work.”
Since its inception in 1986, the J.C. Kenefick Safety Award annually has recognized an agreement employee who has demonstrated outstanding job safety achievements.
2021 J.C. Kenefick Safety Award finalists:
- Marcus Dunn, machinist, Roseville Locomotive Shop, Mechanical
- Kevin Van Sickle, brakeperson, Transportation Southern Region
- Trever Hagedon, locomotive engineer, Transportation Northern Region