Meet The Team
Founder and CEO
Desiree Wood began writing about her experiences as a single, Mexican-American female entering the trucking industry in 2008 on the “Ask the Trucker” blog. Using only a cell phone, her story entitled “A Day in the Life of a Lady Trucker” caught the attention of Dan Rather and became the basis for four of his investigative reports into truck driver training. In 2010, after realizing other trucking associations were not addressing poor and unsafe training nor sexual assault in any meaningful way, Desiree formed REAL Women in Trucking. Recognized internationally by policymakers and drivers, Desiree is lauded for her advocacy for truck drivers and specifically women entering the industry. She is an expert on entry-level truck driver training fleet practices and provides insight to law firms on truck driver recruiting, retention and training programs. She is sought out by scholars, universities, and the public sector who seek an authentic truck driver perspective. She provides support and leadership for legislative/public policy efforts including the Jason’s Law movement to improve truck parking, the FHWA National Coalition on Truck Parking, as well as state and local truck parking plans and programs. Desiree is an appointed member of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Sub-Committee (MCSAC), the Florida Freight Advisory Committee (FLFAC), Martin County Florida Transportation Advisory Committee (FTAC), and the Nevada Freight Advocacy Committee. Desiree is also the Founder and President of Truckers Emergency Assistance Responders (T.E.A.R.). A mother of two and grandmother of six, Desiree earned a Bachelors in Business Administration and is currently working towards her MBA in Non-Profit Management.
Tracy Ellis started her career as an over-the-road trucker. Having faced many obstacles in her life and her driving career, including losing her truck when she was very close to having it paid off, never the less, Tracy persisted. Since 2001, Tracy has been a port driver in Long Beach, California. Today she has a union job that is stable with a guaranteed paycheck and healthcare benefits. She’s experienced firsthand the issue of being a misclassified worker and being treated as an independent contractor for the benefit of the company. She is one of the drivers affected by the California Clean Truck program at the Port of LA that pushed lease trucks on workers. Tracy realizes the importance a union and how it helped extract her from what she deemed a hopeless situation. A union contract is the “great equalizer” as a woman of color, she is guaranteed equal pay and treatment to her male counterparts. She’s now an organizer and fights so others can have the same rights as she does. In 2017 Tracy was elected Shop Steward. An advocate and activist, Tracy has marched on both Los Angeles and Long Beach City Halls (despite having an injured foot and asthma). On numerous occasions, she’s spoken to the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners defending the rights of drivers She considers herself a unity coordinator and a personwho can navigate different genders and ethnic groups more easily than most men. “As a woman of color, I have even more opportunity to unify my coworkers. Without unity, nothing can move forward or change.” In 2018 Tracy was honored with a Trucking Industry Trailblazer Award. She is a dedicated mother to three grown children, one of whom was born with cerebral palsy.
Jess Graham began her career in transportation in 2007 as part owner of a sedan service in Detroit, Michigan. Following the rise of ride-sharing, she transitioned to big trucks in 2012, attending a training program at a mega carrier. In those early days, Jess’s daughter traveled with her where she was homeschooled on the truck. During her time as a company driver for Earl L Henderson Trucking Company, she worked as a driver coach teaching new drivers how to be successful as company drivers. In 2019, Jess purchased her first truck and became an independent owner-operator. After being bullied in other groups purporting to support women drivers, Jess joined REAL Women in Trucking in 2018. She was inspired by RWITs vision of encouraging all drivers to unite and become advocates for bettering the industry. She leads by example and has served as a mentor to many women over the years. A tireless advocate, Jess has been featured in numerous articles and on television for bringing awareness to the issues faced by drivers just entering the industry. She was featured on the cover of Fleet Owner Magazine as one of their 2020 Women in Transportation and in 2021 she was awarded the Trucking Industry Trailblazer Award for her commitment to industry policy work advocating for all women, minorities, and LGBTQ truck drivers. In 2019 she received Honorable Mention for the RWIT Queen of the Road Award. Jess currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia and is active in Georgia’s Truck Parking Coalition.
Idella M. Hansen
Idella Hansen married into a family whose business was a Union 76 bulk fuel plant and began her driving career in the 1960s. She later moved to Arkansas with her husband where they had a garage and a wrecking yard. They bought a cab over with a flatbed, but an equipment issue caused her husband a fall resulting in a broken neck. Idella suddenly became the primary income earner and eventually a single mother. Overcoming many obstacles throughout her career, Idella currently runs teams with her grandson hauling high-security freight throughout the lower 48 states and Canada. Idella joined REAL Women in Trucking because she felt strongly that giving back to young women entering the industry was of the utmost importance. With over 50 years of experience driving a big rig, she knows first-hand what it takes to be successful. Recognized as a top driver in the industry, she’s proud to share her knowledge with the next generation of female (and male!) drivers. In 2017 Idella was named a TA/Petro Citizen Driver of the Year and the North Little Rock, Arkansas Petro location was renamed in her honor. The same year, she also received the Trucking Industry Trailblazer award. Idella serves on the Board of Directors for Truckers Emergency Assistance Responders (T.E.A.R.)
Natalie Jassopadilla has been a trucker for 12 years. She began her trucking career in 2010, driving solo in Los Angeles hauling intermodal. She later decided to team drive with her husband and the couple became owner-operators in 2019. Her experience is in dry van, intermodal, reefer, tankers, and hazmat. In 2021 Natalie was diagnosed with mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma and today is proudly in remission. Her mentality is "if I can I do it you can do it too." Being a cancer survivor has not slowed Jassopadilla down. She shares her experience on the road, life, and driving with your family and a few fur babies on TikTok as SpicyTrucker.
Michelle Kitchin started her truck driving career in 1988. Over the years, she’s been a trainer and an Independent Owner Operator pulling a straight bore chemical tanker, a flatbed, Michigan train, dry van and a dry bulk tanker. Currently, she’ a company driver commanding the wheel of a 2022 Kenworth T680 NextGen. She pulls office furniture and pharmaceuticals from Michigan to California and then pulls produce on the return trip to Michigan. Her advocacy runs deep. She remembers when she was the only female in a mega fleet and the criticism, coercion, discrimination, harassment she faced. Undeterred by these experiences, she took it upon herself to get educated and now with years of experience, she’s an industry expert. Michelle is proficient in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association Rules & Regulations, provides actionable items that will result in a safer work environment, and a leading equipment troubleshooter.
She represents the promise of the new generation of 'non-traditional’ entrants in the transportation sector. As a cultural immigrant, having recently left the professional sector, she had to find ways to overcome the barriers which present themselves to women drivers who don’t conform to the ingrained expectation of what a trucker should be. When told by her instructor in trucking school, that she just needed to give up because she was not getting the hang of things quick enough, she advocated for herself, saying ‘I’ve been around me all my life. This is not insurmountable’ and negotiated more instruction time for herself. She demonstrated the same resilience when, during Q2 of 2020, during one the worst down turns in the industry she bought her first truck. It was a gutsy, contrarian move. After a few difficult months, she found her footing, with the help of mentors and her own ability to negotiate with shipping customers. She comes from a professional and faith culture that actively incorporates mentoring. Just as she proactively sought mentoring going into trucking, she continues to pass it on, finding ways to help other aspiring owner ops.
Imagine living in a communist country and living through history as the wall was torn down. She was born in East Germany, moved throughout her childhood, and calls East Berlin her home. She reached a point in her life where she sought warmer weat her, packed 2 suitcases, and moved to Los Angeles. Almost instantly, she made appearances in TV and movie backgrounds. Shortly after her divorce, her nomadic tendency came calling and she decided to drive a truck. She spent the entire 2 years of her training contract planning her move to become an Owner Operator. The minute her 2 years were up, she applied for her LLC, MC#, Authority. She bought a truck and trailer & away she went. She is currently entering her 21st year of driving. Her goal as an owner-operator is to assist other women by training them to be confident, successful, innovative, and passionate! She is on a driver advisory committee and belongs to an advocacy group. She is always available to assist anyone who has questions about our industry. She is currently looking for qualified driver candidates to train for her company BratCat Express.
Debbie Desiderato is the owner of Walkabout Transport, a certified Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB). From trucking safety manager in the 90s to her sixth truck purchase in 2021, Debbie has held her motor carrier authority since 2002 and has made her career in the trucking industry. She’s operated car haulers, reefers, flatbeds and is currently hauling dry van freight over the road and logging in her local community of South Western Virginia. Debbie’s vast experience is often called upon by her peers. Her goal is to help level the playing field for owner-operators and small independent carriers amongst the myriad of federal regulations, the tactics of the mega carriers to drive small carriers out of business, and to keep all of the many hands out of the pockets of America’s hard-working truck drivers. Debbie’s role is that of a big voice for small trucking companies and independent owners and operators who are often taken advantage of and under-represented. Affiliations: ● REAL Women in Trucking since 2012 ● OOIDA member since 2002 ● National Association of Small Business Trucking Companies (NASTC) since 2015 Accomplishments: ● 2016 created the Truck Parking App “Truckr Notes” ● 2017 Appeared in film “Autonomy” ● 2018 Transportation Service Provider (TSP) for FEMA ● 2019 Driver of the Year (NASTC) ● 2020 Industry Trailblazer (RWIT) ● 2021 MCSAC Driver Subcommittee member
Sonja Tucci is a 28 year veteran of the trucking industry. She’s experienced driving a tanker, a refer, a dry van and flat bed. For the past 16 years she’s been training new drivers to the industry. Sonja joined REAL Women in Trucking in 2018. She was inspired to be part of the organization She’s proud to state that safety and keeping integrity in the trucking industry will always be her first priority.
Angela Baum pulls doubles and triples, dry van, refer, tanker, flatbed, and Hazmat. A team truck driver, with her husband Larry, they drive for FedEx Custom Critical including hauling loads for the Department of Defense. In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic Angela saw how hard it was for truck drivers to not only find open restaurants, but also restrooms that would cater to them. She wanted to make a difference during these hard times and thus began the Treat A Trucker Program. Each Friday, Angela and Larry and would take $100 and buy ten $10 gift cards for Subway, the main restaurant open at the time. They would then pass them out to fellow truckers, thanking them for being on the road when the rest of the world was shut down. Since the program began, they have donated to over $14,000. It was during this time that the country was also experiencing rioting and violence toward truckers. Feeling a need to help keep drivers out on the road safe, Angela launched Truckers Safety Info. The Facebook page posts daily updated including areas truckers should avoid, accidents, construction, and weather conditions. Angela is passionate about encouraging more women to join the trucking industry and wants to make sure they have safe training and education in this industry, free from sexual harassment. On her weekly Facebook show she brings awareness to the challenges female truckers face while on the road. She also speaks to the stay-at-home wives, providing support for these women who care for households and families while their partners are traveling. Angela also started a Facebook platform called The Truckers View. With more than 1,100 followers, the show allows drivers to stream their lives as they travel across the country, giving an inside look at the world from their office window. Angela was born and raised in Illinois and is the proud mother of 4 daughters and 12 grandchildren.