Elaine Cohen started the master’s of public administration program at College of Notre Dame while she was teaching in the education department. “I felt that teachers should have a broader perspective than just that of an education professional. I wanted to do something that made College of Notre Dame unique,” she said.

“The program has been beneficial for our students because they meet people in these courses they can call upon to work together to better our community,” she added.

Cohen was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She moved with her husband, and Air Force Doctor, to Texas, where she completed her master’s degree in education at Trinity University and at the University of San Francisco. From Texas, the couple moved to California. “I really believe if we hadn’t been so many thousands of miles from home, we wouldn’t have gone west to wind up in California,” she said. The West Coast wins again.

She taught in the East, the Southwest and the West, kindergarten through eighth, chemistry in high school, and was a principal in Texas. When she moved to the Bay Area, she taught at public schools in Millbrae and was assigned student teachers from the University of San Francisco. Her career began to roll.

USF administrators called one day and asked Cohen to teach and supervise their student teachers, then College of Notre Dame called for essentially the same purpose.

At CND, she taught various courses in the education department and completed her doctorate at the USF. She was acting chair of the education department for a short period, then developed the MPA program and became its director.

She started the MPA program from scratch. “It was a monumental task because we were putting together groups of people from the non-profit sector as well as those who wanted to do a program for service-related non­profit students as opposed to a BA for private and profit sector students,” she said.

“I think the time was right to do this, the late seventies, because people did not necessarily want an MBA degree. We really brought the community in on this and they felt the need for it as a well as the academic faculty here,” she said.

The best thing about her program is “the synergy that exists by putting together people in education, administration, health services, human resources and public affairs, so people learn from each other and share with and network with each other, and really produce something that wouldn’t exist if it were a one track kind of program for certain types of administrators,” she said.

Pat Brown, Executive director of the Conflict Resolution Center in San Mateo, went through the MP A program and had Cohen as an instructor. “It was a small enough program when I went through that she knew us all by name. She was wonderful; every time I needed something she was very accommodating,” said Brown.

In class, Cohen was “interesting. She taught us the basic 101 management class and conducted it much like a management seminar. She did not talk down to us and pulled from the group what richness they had to offer. I thought it was a good way to run the course,” said Brown.

In 1984 Cohen passed on the direction of the program and took the post of graduate dean.

Throughout her academic and professional career, Cohen raised three children, twin boys and a girl. “I think that women can do it. I think you need to have a supportive family structure and I had that in my husband and my three children.”

Cohen, though reluctant to talk about her achievements, spoke with a note of pride of her children’s accomplishments. One of her twin sons is an executive with Oracle Corporation in London; his brother, a management consultant, is running the Chicago offices of a high-tech company, and their sister is a corporate banker with a Wall Street firm. Her husband is a cardiologist and CEO of a large cardiology group in San Mateo.

Among other volunteer positions, Cohen was a founding director of the Hillsborough School Foundation and served for 12 years as a trustee of the Mills Peninsula Hospital Foundation.

In the 20-plus years she has been at the school there have been a few alterations. “I’ve seen it change from a traditional day population to a growing adult population that works and comes to school at the same time, and I would say that’s true of both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“We now go year-round) we are no longer based on a start in September, end in May and out for the summer schedule. That enables our students to take courses year-round, and to come in the afternoons, evenings and on the weekends,” Cohen said.

Cohen, educator, innovator, administrator and supermom, began teaching as a result of the prejudices of the day. “Years ago, there weren’t too many options for women and you had to go into either nursing or teaching. My mother told me it was good job for girl. I think it’s a good job for anyone,” she said.

This article was written by William Cracraft/Freelance News Service and first published in 1998 in the 75th Anniversary Edition tabloid published by Alameda News Paper Group. Any accompanying photos were also taken by William Cracraft. It is reproduced here as a portfolio piece.


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