When pioneering educator and entrepreneurial advocate, Edward Cohen passed away in 2019, the State of New Jersey lost a veritable lion of education and technological entrepreneurship. Over 30 years ago, Cohen understood that to revitalize the State’s flagging economy, a fuse had to be lit forging the sectors of higher education, business, and technology-based entrepreneurship.
With his roots in the international Foreign Service and an eye toward the future, Cohen’s first major success occurred during his tenure as assistant chancellor of higher education, when he took on the mantle of forming NJ’s system of county community colleges. Among them was a statewide health sciences university, which we know today as the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).
His futurist sensibilities were front and center in 1985 when he personally ushered in the creation of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. With approval from then, first-term Governor Thomas Kean, the new agency sprang from the higher education department, with Cohen as its founding executive director.
The fledgling New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology was geared toward the development and oversight of policies and programs promoting science, technology research and entrepreneurship.
Known today as the Commission on Science, Innovation, and Technology, the mission remains basically the same, with invaluable participation from Commission members who include business leaders, university leaders, scientists, legislators and representatives of the Executive Director of the Commerce Commission, the Commissioner of Education, and the Governor.
As Cohen explained to The New York Times, “In the early 1980’s it was recognized that the era of the traditional smokestack industry was drawing to a close and that New Jersey’s long-term economic future depended on creating and expanding advanced technological industries.
Despite the State’s existing strengths in various technological fields, it was apparent that a new strategy was necessary, one that would fuse the previously disparate objectives of economic development and support of higher education.
I thought there should be more weltanschauung (world view) in our master plan for education. You can’t have education in a vacuum. It has to take place within the context of what is happening throughout the world, and what is happening in our world today is that technology is transforming the way people live and work.’’
He was clearly onto something.
Dedicated to the Memory of Edward Cohen & Contributed by Mario M. Casabona, Commissioner Emeritus NJ CS&T