Debra Coen came to Drew University in 1993 with the intent of being a Pre-Med major. However, as Coen advanced in her academic career, and in life, it became apparent that she was meant to do everything.
Twenty-one years later, Debra Coen, with an undergraduate degree in Behavioral Science and a masters in technology education under her belt, is also a teacher with five certifications and a mom of three. And in November, she added being a councilwoman on the Madison Borough Council to her long list of involvement. One might be concerned for the health of someone so involved, but Coen shows no sign of stopping and talks of her many responsibilities with passion and contagious enthusiasm.
Coen’s passion for involvement and planning was evident in her time at Drew. She was a member of clubs including UPB, the Acorn and according to Coen, “all things student activities.” In addition to her heavy involvement in student events, she worked on campus at the computer center, library and as a waitress for food services.
Coen describes her life after college as “very bizarre.” Initially, she wanted to go into event planning, but the job search was difficult. Her friend, a fellow Drew alum, offered her a teaching position. Since then, she’s been a high school teacher at West Orange. It was then that she decided to get her Masters in technology education at Montclair. Today, Coen teaches photography and electricity as well as a specialized engineering class for autistic and intellectually-disabled students. Her passion for education extended to holding a seat on the Board of Education for three years as well.
Although this was a career path she did not intend to take, she said “Drew still prepared me. Drew prepared me for life in general.” Beyond courses that prepared her, Coen cites Drew’s emphasis on working together as preparing her for her role in teaching, as well as her new position on the Madison Borough Council.
Coen was elected to the Council in November after almost ten months of intense campaigning and canvassing. She fondly reminisced knocking on all 5,200 doors in Madison during her campaign. Just like Coen, the Madison Borough Council does everything. The Council decides everything from approving new fire trucks to affordable housing litigation. Very few know the tedious demands of local government. For Coen, though, this tediousness is thrilling and provides a huge opportunity to advocate. Coen notes how Drew refined her passion for advocating by cultivating a culture of advocation. She wants to push for more field space, more shared responsibilities between the Borough Council and the Board of Education, as well as improve the communication between the local government and the public by implementing town hall meetings with flexible dates and create a more vibrant environment in Madison.
Her position on the Council will end in three years. As of right now, Coen predicts she will run again. When asked if she plans on running for a higher office in the future, she laughed and said “I don’t want to be a full-time politician. At least that’s my intent right now.” She also remarked that if someone had told her twenty years ago that she would be on the Council, she would have “laughed in their face.”
Coen mentioned strengthening the relationship between the Borough and Drew by organizing more events catered to college students. Past events organized with the efforts of the Borough and Drew include the farmer’s market that takes place in the fall and Taste of Madison.
She offers advice to those potentially seeking a career in any kind of political office: “It’s getting involved in even the smallest way possible. You don’t have to do what crazy people like me do and run for Board of Education or Town Council. There are commissions and volunteer events. If you’re interested, get involved in some way.” Her story also offers great advice for those just looking to make a difference and is a beacon of hope for those who are uncertain in their career path. For Debra Coen this uncertainty is thrilling and it’s what motivates her to make a difference.