Promoting Public Service

Amy B. Cohen will lead the university’s new Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

Amy Cohen
March 29, 2010

On April 26, Amy B. Cohen will join George Washington as executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. The center, announced last October by President Steven Knapp, will build on GW’s legacy of public service to spearhead and support initiatives across the university.

“I have long been a supporter of GW’s work in the community,” says Ms. Cohen, who most recently served as associate vice president for child development programs at Save the Children. “The opportunity to strengthen and deepen GW’s partnerships and to focus on integrating service and civic engagement into the university’s outstanding research and teaching is fantastic.”

Ms. Cohen, who was selected as the result of a nationwide search, has a wealth of service-learning experience to draw on in her new role at GW. Prior to joining Save the Children, she served for nearly a decade as the director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is also the parent agency for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. Her career in academic service and civic engagement began at the University of Pennsylvania, where she helped direct the Penn Program for Public Service (Netter Center for Community Partnerships), an international leader in university-community partnership.

“At Learn and Serve America and at the University of Pennsylvania, I was able to learn about civic engagement from some of the best and most innovative programs in the country,” she says.

GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service is tasked with developing, extending and coordinating the university’s efforts nationally and globally. Its recent initiatives include providing seed money through a new Public Service Grant Commission designed to bolster student organization events, which support GW’s 100,000 service hour challenge currently underway.

The center also is conducting a campus-wide assessment of all the university’s service contributions to the Washington region and beyond and is increasing opportunities for students to serve in the government and nonprofit sectors through an effort to redirect up to $1 million in federal work study funds to increase public service positions.

Expanding support for service-learning courses across campus, creating a new public service scholars corps and an initiative aimed at promoting employee engagement in the community are also under discussion.

In addition, the center assists in the selection of The George Washington University’s Colin Powell Public Service Award, which annually honors a GW community member who has made an outstanding contribution to public service in the spirit of the award’s namesake, General Colin Powell. Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, M.A. ’92, received the university’s inaugural award in 2009.

Ms. Cohen will join Jacqueline Hackett, B.A. ’08, and Collin Stephenson, B.A. ’09, GW graduate students and Presidential Administrative Fellows, who serve as the center staff and have managed initiatives related to academic engagement and service-learning and a subcommittee for careers in public service.

The center has been supported by a campus-wide advisory committee co-chaired by Alan Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service at the GW Law Center; Michael Akin, assistant vice president of government, international and community relations; and Peter Konwerski, associate vice president for student and academic support services.

The committee, which was responsible for Ms. Cohen’s selection, consists of associate deans and school faculty representatives drawn from university’s nine schools, the president of the Student Association, representatives from administrative areas integral to supporting the public service mission of the university, and a community partner. It will continue to serve as a source of ideas for Ms. Cohen, as well as a sounding board for potential projects.

A native of Montclair, N.J., Ms. Cohen attended the New School for Social Research and received her degree from Brandeis University. She has completed all of the coursework for a doctorate in U.S. history at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Cohen says she spends a lot of her free time supporting her teenage daughter’s ice skating and also enjoys working in the garden and walking her dog. She has a family connection to GW: Her sister, Hilary, graduated from the university in the early 1990s.

“If we focus our attention here at GW on actively working together to address the most critical needs of our community and the nation, we will strengthen scholarship, learning and The George Washington University,” says Ms. Cohen.

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