Giving Supports Student Leaders in Cohen Institute

Abby Despres

The William S. Cohen Institute for Leadership & Public Service at the University of Maine has received over $110,000 in gifts since the start of the fiscal year from alumni, parents and friends of UMaine.

“These investments in the Cohen Institute ensure that we will continue to be able to develop innovative opportunities for the next generation of leaders at UMaine,” said Rich Powell, professor and director of the Cohen Institute for Leadership & Public Service, and UMaine’s 2020 Distinguished Maine Professor. “Whether down in our nation’s capital or right here in Orono, Cohen Institute students are developing hands-on, advanced leadership skills for the 21st century — a time of dramatic, unpredictable change.”

“In leadership courses offered by professors Powell and (Peter) Madigan, and as a Congressional intern my sophomore spring, I was challenged to develop a new perspective that drove me toward opportunities I’m not sure I would have found anywhere else,” said Abby Despres, a senior political science major minoring in French, legal studies and international affairs, who participated in multiple classes and programs offered by the Cohen Institute. Despres, who is from Fayette, serves as the student representative on the University of Maine System Board of Trustees.

The Cohen Institute models, promotes and teaches leadership and public service through programs that reflect and honor the rich legacy of Secretary Cohen’s public service. It trains future generations who are destined for leadership roles in a variety of disciplines to be ethical, visionary, innovative, civil, thoughtful and independent-minded in the service of Maine, the United States and the world. The Cohen Institute sponsors UMaine’s interdisciplinary leadership studies minor, which launched in 2014 and now enrolls nearly 100 students, with about 500 students annually taking at least one course in the program.

In 2016, the Cohen Institute began its highly competitive Washington, D.C. Leadership Institute Travel Course. The course, which rivals those found at the nation’s most elite universities, offers an immersive experience for about 15 students each year to develop hands-on, advanced leadership skills by taking advantage of the unique opportunities available in the nation’s capital to meet and learn from notable leaders in government, the military, business, nonprofit organizations, athletics, education and the arts.

In 2019, the Cohen Institute launched its inaugural High School Leadership Program. The program immersed 20 rising high school seniors, including at least one student from each of Maine’s 16 counties, in both the theory and practice of leadership. The program welcomes numerous high-profile leaders from a wide range of fields to share their practical insights on leadership and public service, including Secretary Cohen, Sen. Susan Collins, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, author and speechwriter Mark Salter, and coaches from UMaine athletics teams. Postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will hopefully resume in Orono in summer 2021.

Since 1998, the signature program of the Cohen Institute has been the biannual Cohen Lecture that has welcomed leaders to campus from the highest levels of public service for lectures open to the public. Past speakers have included senior cabinet secretaries, heads of state and nationally known journalists. The most recent Cohen Lecture, in fall 2019, featured a conversation between Secretary Cohen and his special guest, John Kerry, former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic nominee for president.

“Whether as an alum, a donor, or getting to know and help students as their professor, I am continually impressed and inspired to be affiliated with this great program. It’s a gem for UMaine, whose impact I’ve seen continued to grow,” says Madigan ’81, Cohen Institute Board of Advisors chair and adjunct professor for the Cohen Institute.

Due to the designations of the gifts, the majority of the funds will be made available immediately to help students while a portion supports the Institute’s endowment to provide ongoing support.