Marlboro Women Head to Montpelier

Sara Coffey ’90 and Emilie Kornheiser ’00 take Vermont are sworn in on January 9 as newly elected state representatives.

January 07, 2019

In the second week of January 2018, two alumnae from Marlboro College will be sworn in at the Vermont House of Representatives, part of a national wave of women running for public office in response to recent social and political events. Sara Coffey ’90 will serve as the state representative for Windham District 1, serving Vernon and Guilford, and Emilie Kornheiser ’00 will represent Brattleboro District 1. Their election in November was not only a resounding confirmation of the importance women’s voices in today’s political discourse but also the role Marlboro College plays in supporting civic leadership.

“I’m looking forward to spending my first year bringing more of my community into conversations about state policy,” said Emilie, who has a background in community development both internationally and locally. Most recently she has been director of workforce development at Youth Services, in Brattleboro, and early childhood action plan director at Building Bright Futures of Vermont.

“I ran for office because I wanted government to truly be a representation of our community’s needs. In committee and on the floor, I will help my colleagues to understand how each piece of our system works together, and how it effects our communities on the ground.”

Emilie’s commitment to community involvement ranges from organizing volunteer meals for a community seasonal shelter to co-founding and advising Equity Solutions, a consultancy focused on transforming class in Vermont. She is an elected member of Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting, and, in July 2017, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson appointed Emilie to the Vermont Commission on Women.

The district that Sara is representing is more rural, and has been held by republicans for 18 years until now. The community holds a diversity of perspectives ranging from very liberal to very conservative, but Sara is never one to back down from a challenge.

“What I’m most excited about is straddling these points of view and being a community builder,” said Sara, who founded Vermont Performance Lab. This “performance incubator” combining her passion for supporting new performance work with her passion for the well-being of communities. Sara has been an active volunteer in her community, serving on several school associations and boards, including the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont, as co-chair of the New England Foundation for the Arts’ Advisory Council, and president of the Broad Brook Community Center.

“I’m excited to be a part of innovation around the rural economy, in the usual areas of forestry and agriculture of course but also in the digital and creative economies,” said Sara. “I’m looking forward to learning how to get things done, how to pull the levers, figuring out the systems, build collaboration.”

Both Sara and Emilie consider their experience at Marlboro as an important stage in their civic involvement, from engaging in Town Meeting to participating in committees. They also follow the example of fellow Marlboro alumnus, graduate faculty member, and Interim Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies Tristan Toleno MBA ’11, who has served on on the Vermont House since 2012 and is currently assistant majority leader.

“My Marlboro education helped me listen deeply, participate fully, and understand the deep connections between ideas,” said Emilie. “I think the piece of my Marlboro education that I’m treasuring the most, as I head up to Montpelier, is my comfort in disagreement. I learned to hold firm to my ideals—and my theories—and to speak my mind, despite possible judgment or perceived difference of power.”

“What impressed me most was seeing how individuals can make an impact in a small community,” said Sara. “Not only what students were doing on campus but what faculty and staff did in their own communities.” She recalls longtime faculty member T. Wilson making national headlines, in his role as a Justice of the Peace in Marlboro, for marrying one of the the first same-sex couples in Vermont, and former president Rod Gander serving in the Vermont Senate.

“I found these amazing examples of people in the community making contributions, taking bold steps, being involved. I came away with the understanding that I can do this—and in fact if I don’t do this, who will?” Sara was also inspired by what students were able to accomplish in their Plans, and continued to be impressed by them when she served as a Marlboro College trustee for 13 years.

“They were only limited by their imagination,” she said. “I want to bring that kind of inspiration to the table in Montpelier. More than ever, we need hope, optimism, and the ability to affect change.”