DelDOT’s Cohan committed to community service

Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan was front and center at this year’s Dover Days Parade in May, leading the way for her team. She will be honored as the recipient of the 2016 Kent Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts of America, Del-Mar-Va Council Sept. 29 at Dover Downs. (Delaware State News file photo/K.I. White)

Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan was front and center at this year’s Dover Days Parade in May, leading the way for her team. She will be honored as the recipient of the 2016 Kent Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts of America, Del-Mar-Va Council Sept. 29 at Dover Downs. (Delaware State News file photo/K.I. White)

DOVER –– Although we see the work of the Delaware Department of Transportation on the roads every day, we don’t have the chance to see the woman behind the agency –– Jennifer Cohan. In the midst of a professional life dedicated to the improvement of Delaware, she has been chosen as the recipient of the 2016 Kent Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts of America, Del-Mar-Va Council.

“I was surprised and definitely honored, especially after looking at the list of past recipients,” Ms. Cohan said. “So it’s definitely an honor, and still kind of surreal.”

Past recipients have included Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Dover Downs CEO Denis McGlynn and Kent County Levy Court President Brooks Banta.

Ms. Cohan was selected by a committee of past honorees and local leaders. They committee looks for people who live up to Scout Law –– a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Although the award is given by the Boy Scouts, Ms. Cohan is one of many women to be honored with the award since its inception in 1985.

Kent County beginnings

Ms. Cohan was born and raised in Kent County, attending the Capital School District and starting her career while at Dover High with an internship doing data entry for the state and over two summers.

She was hired by the state Division of Motor Vehicles right out of high school and managed full-time work and undergraduate classes at Wilmington University to earn a degree in business management.

“Once I started in the public sector, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “From there, I went on to work at several different state agencies and it all culminated when I became the first female director of the DMV in 2007.”

After serving seven years at the DMV, Gov. Jack Markell approached Ms. Cohan and asked if she was interested in the top spot at DelDOT.

“I always knew public service was in my blood but I don’t think anyone really aspires to be the head of the DMV or DelDOT. But when the opportunity was offered to me, I had to take it,” she said.

Ms. Cohan was attracted to the position mainly by the staff at DelDOT –– many who often go unrecognized.

At the top

As secretary of DelDOT, Ms. Cohan oversees about 2,500 employees

“We are the agency that people love to love or love to hate,” she said. “We’re doing great things throughout the state –– people want great roads, but they have a hard time waiting it out while the projects get done, so it takes a lot of courage and responsibility to be the head of an agency like this.”

As a Kent County resident, Ms. Cohan came into the position at DelDOT knowing that funding and projects had to

As president of the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club, Jennifer Cohan helped cut the ribbon on the new Kent County Recreation Center which holds a new Boys & Girls Club. (Delaware State News file photo)

As president of the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club, Jennifer Cohan helped cut the ribbon on the new Kent County Recreation Center which holds a new Boys & Girls Club. (Delaware State News file photo)

be distributed more evenly across the state because most resources have always been diverted to New Castle County.

“Of course New Castle has the highest population density and oldest infrastructure in the state, but it was important to address the needs in all three counties, not just one,” she said.

Getting projects started across the state was given a bit of a push last year when the General Assembly passed a new revenue package for DelDOT, increasing its budget to allow more projects to get underway.

Ms. Cohan touts the revenue package as one of her proudest accomplishments at DelDOT because previous secretaries had tried for years to secure a revenue package and she locked it down within six months of being hired.

Thanks to the revenue package, every project in DelDOT’s six-year-plan is currently in motion.

“We’ve basically turned the entire state into a work zone,” Ms. Cohan said. “There were a lot of projects that needed to get done and just drive down Route 1, you’ll get just a glimpse of how much we have going on right now.”

DelDOT doesn’t only address vehicular transportation. It also works on pedestrian projects. The most noteworthy pedestrian project is six miles of sidewalk in and around Rehoboth Beach to keep pedestrians out of the way of cars.

One complication that does come up with so much ongoing construction is many work zones on major roads, which, in some cases, slow down traffic or even bring it to a stop.

“Many people think if traffic slows or stops, that something is wrong but that isn’t always the case,” she said. “We are focusing on encouraging drivers to be patient and practice work zone safety because we do have people working on the roads, so exercising caution is very important.”

Through the work Ms. Cohan has accomplished in only two years at DelDOT, she hopes to be an inspiration to other women pursuing a high power profession.

“I want to inspire other females to excel in their fields of interest. When other females see women in positions like mine, I hope it’s a message that women can do whatever kind of job they want, no matter if it’s a male-driven industry or not,” she said.

Community endeavors

Outside her work with the state over the years, Ms. Cohan has picked up several other professional endeavors, such as becoming president of the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club.

As president, she played a major role in the private/public partnership between the club and Kent County.

In June, the pair opened a joint-use facility, the Kent County Recreation Center, which includes a brand new Boys & Girls Club.

“I’m so proud of that,” she said. “And it’s so unique to have a successful private/public partnership like this. Being able to get the project done and seeing the kids enjoying the new space is just really exciting.”

Since its opening, about 300 Dover-area kids have used the facility each day as part of the Summer Fun Club. Programs continue throughout the year, mostly after school.

Ms. Cohan also teaches courses at Wilmington University as part of the school’s Masters in Public Administration program.

“It’s so much fun and it’s been extremely rewarding,” she said. “What I love so much about teaching there is that I can bring in real-world experience. Sure, professors can teach only from a book, but I can bring real applications of the work into the classroom and explain what really goes into accomplishing the goals we talk about in the classroom.”

Ms. Cohan said juggling all of her endeavors takes a lot of support from her husband and daughter both of whom were also born and raised in Delaware.

Ms. Cohan will officially receive the Kent Distinguished Citizen Award on Sept. 29 at Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center. The ceremony begins with a reception at 6 p.m. and a dinner at 7.

Tickets are $125 and available through Monday online at dmvc.org/kentdcad. For more information, call Kevin Les Callette at 443-523-7639.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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