Alum named 2018 Eisenhower Fellow, will research global policies on self-driving cars

March 5, 2018

By Matthew Kredell

Jennifer Cohen MPP ’06

As director of government affairs at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Jennifer Cohen welcomed a representative from South Korea who was in L.A. last year to conduct interviews with officials from various local government organizations.

However, she ended up interviewing the interviewer and learning about the Eisenhower Fellowship program, a mid-career fellowship that would enable her to see new places while studying a subject relevant to her career.

Now Cohen, who completed a Master of Public Policy degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy in 2006, is a 2018 Eisenhower Fellow with plans to visit Singapore and Vietnam in May, then France in the fall, to learn how other countries handle autonomous vehicle technology.

“The goal at the end would be to bring newly honed skills and information back to LADOT so this is relevant for Los Angeles,” Cohen said. “I hope it makes me better at my job, and that I can help the City of Los Angeles craft policies that bring the greatest benefits from autonomous vehicles.”

A community of global leaders

Founded during the Eisenhower presidency as an international leader exchange program, the Eisenhower Fellowship seeks to identify, empower and connect innovative leaders across the globe who share a commitment to creating a more peaceful, prosperous and just world. The current board chairman of the fellowship program is retired General Colin Powell.

Cohen was one of 11 American leaders chosen for the program, which involves a customized four- or five-week professional experience abroad. She decided on France and Singapore for being pioneers in autonomous vehicle technology. France has three transit companies building the vehicles and has done a number of pilot programs, while Singapore is leading in the area of self-driving taxis.

“Jennifer’s Eisenhower Fellow award is well deserved and no surprise to me,” said Genevieve Giuliano, USC Price Professor and director of the METRANS transportation research center. “She was a wonderful student, and has been at the forefront of transportation policy in Southern California. I can think of no one more qualified to bring back best practices and put them to work to deploy autonomous vehicles in L.A.”

Focused on local impact

Her interest in transportation was forged in the MPP program at USC Price, where she served as research assistant for METRANS under Giuliano’s leadership. And for her practicum project, Cohen had the opportunity to work with a client who was a councilwoman serving as chair of the transportation committee — this experience ended up leading to a job as her legislative deputy.

“Many from my graduate school cohort ended up going into local government, so those connections have been tremendously helpful,” Cohen said. “USC Price provided the laboratory in which to learn about transportation policy.”

At LADOT, she oversees intergovernmental relations, regulatory and legislative work, researching how state and federal bills will impact transportation in Los Angeles. In this capacity, she is looking closely at autonomous vehicle legislation and policy.

“I chose self-driving cars as the research topic for my fellowship because we, as a government, need to ensure that the benefits of autonomous technology reach everyone in our society,” Cohen said. “Traditionally, early adopters of technology are those with means, which is not necessarily the demographic that has the most to gain from the technology.”