January 2019 – New Madison Borough Council Member Debra Pierce Coen credits Drew University for helping her find a career that makes her happy.
Coen C’97, who assumed her part-time Council role this month, teaches technology and engineering at West Orange High School. In an interview with Drew.edu, Coen, who earned bachelor’s in behavioral science from Drew, reflects on key mentors in The Forest and offers advice to current undergraduates.
What did you learn at Drew that will help you on the Council?
Drew was instrumental in teaching me about long-term planning—both through the academic side of college and the work of committees and being a part of the University Program Board. These opportunities also taught me how it was important to see the different sides of an issue and weigh the pros and cons, based on what was presented. This includes analyzing options, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Who were your biggest mentors in The Forest and what did you gain from them?
Kimberly Sweeney Samson, who was director of student activities back then, had a huge impact. Kim was integral in helping relationships develop among the variety of students in the organizations she oversaw. In addition, she’d provide guidance, but ultimately let us plan and organize concerts, dances and other events.
What else did she teach you?
That even with the best laid plans and alternate plans, last minute hiccups happen. She also ensured that we understood how to deal with things on the fly in a calm fashion to accomplish goals. Her mentorship was invaluable to me and I still think of her as I work today in several capacities.
Lee Pollock, a biology professor. I entered Drew with the intent of being a pre-med major and quickly discovered that college-level science may not be for me. Lee saw that I was struggling and talked to me about my desire to pursue pre-med and become a pediatrician. As the semester progressed, he had several conversations with me, ultimately guiding me out of pre-med, but did so without making me feel as a failure. He helped me to discover a new path where I’d be more successful and ultimately, happier. His willingness to approach the situation in a manner that suited my personality was key.
What advice do you have for current undergraduates as they identify their passions and chart career paths?
Don’t be fearful of change. The path you enter Drew thinking you are on may not be where you end up. Also, be open to ideas, both academically and through student activities. Finally, put yourself out there when you can and be willing to let others take the lead when necessary. Find a staff member and professor who can help guide you.