Class of 2020: Future ‘Double-Hoo’ Hitting Her Own High Notes at UVA, Beyond

Music has always been at the core of Chloe Cohen, who will become a “Double-Hoo” after earning her master’s degree from the Batten School next month.

Cohen, a Spanish major, earned her undergraduate degree last May. (Contributed photo)
Cohen, a Spanish major, earned her undergraduate degree last May. (Contributed photo)

What does it sound like to hear a former New York City opera singer practice in your house?

University of Virginia student Chloe Cohen can tell you.

Cohen’s mother, Rita, a UVA alumna, still likes to hit the high notes from time to time at the family’s home in Virginia Beach.

“You can even hear her from outside if you walk by the house!” Chloe Cohen said.

When Cohen first got to UVA, she attempted to follow her mom’s footsteps by joining a singing group – but it was a little harder than she anticipated.

Cohen, who had grown up singing and dancing, tried out unsuccessfully for several UVA groups, before – just as she was beginning to lose hope – making the Virginia Women’s Chorus.

For an Echols Scholar who came to UVA on a full merit scholarship, not having an extracurricular activity like singing may not seem like that big of a deal, but Cohen said being a part of the group was one of the most important things to happen to her during her time on Grounds.

“It’s definitely been an incredible experience,” said Cohen, who will become a “Double-Hoo” next month when she earns her master’s degree from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “When I first got to UVA, I think I experienced what a lot of other students experience, in that I was one of the stars in my high school, but when you get to college – especially at a competitive place like UVA – you’re going to get a lot of ‘nos’ and be turned down for a lot of things.

“I auditioned for a variety of singing groups before I found out about the Virginia Women’s Chorus. When I auditioned for them, the director and all the members were so welcoming to me. I knew early on that I’d found the right group.”

Cohen has always loved music. Her mother, who majored in music at UVA and was a member of the University Singers before going into a career as a classical opera singer (she now works as a Zumba instructor and is the founder of a local nonprofit), got her into it at a young age, starting with piano lessons.

Chloe Cohen said the friendships she’s made through Virginia Women’s Chorus will last a lifetime, with a 2018 spring break tour along the East Coast a memory she’ll never forget.

“It was just a really fun bonding experience in addition to the singing,” she said. “There were actually a series of snowstorms while we were traveling. Some of our concerts ended up getting cancelled, but it just made the trip even more exciting. It was a really fun time.”

During her time in the group, Cohen served in multiple roles on the managing board. “It was the first leadership experience I had in college and was really formative for me,” she said.

Cohen’s singing highlight came at UVA’s “Rotunda Sing” in 2018 in which, performing in a trio, she had her first-ever solo.

Cohen, whose father, Andrew, is a professor at Old Dominion University following a career in finance, said music is just something she “can never really get away from.”

“It’s just a really special way to connect with other people,” she said, “and express yourself and be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”

Those are also things she’s enjoyed about her time at Batten.

Coming out of high school, Cohen’s college choices came down to Columbia University and UVA. One of the main reasons she chose UVA was Batten’s accelerated master’s program.

“I thought it was a really cool opportunity to just learn a lot about public policy, be a leader and just kickstart my career,” Cohen said. “It really drew me in.

“And knowing that, as an Echols Scholar, I would be able to choose my own adventure and not have to take any requirements, just craft my own path – I also thought that was really cool.”

Cohen, right, forged friendships with fellow members of the Virginia Women’s Chorus she says will last a lifetime. (Contributed photo)
Cohen, right, forged friendships with fellow members of the Virginia Women’s Chorus she says will last a lifetime. (Contributed photo)

One of Cohen’s proudest accomplishments was co-founding a student organization, Courageous Conversations in Policy. One of the group’s first conversations came after the blackface scandal involving Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring.

“That was a really meaningful conversation to just get our emotions out on the table,” Cohen said, “and just think, ‘What does this say about our society? What does this say about policymaking? What does it say culturally and what does it all mean? And how can we all move forward from this?’”

Jill Rockwell, Batten’s senior assistant dean for student and career services, recalled a meeting with Cohen and an undergraduate student whom Cohen had inspired.

“The fact that she took the time to set up this meeting, and then facilitated such heartfelt connections between all three of us, was impressive and memorable,” Rockwell said. “Not surprisingly, we all have stayed in touch, and the student is now an incoming Batten graduate student.”

While at Batten, Cohen also served as the sole student representative on the search committee for a new dean – an experience she called “empowering.”

“The whole school benefited when she brought her energy, perspective and hard work to the committee that hired Dean [Ian] Solomon,” Batten assistant professor Andrew Pennock said. “Student voices are an important part of Batten and helping to select a dean who reflects Batten’s culture so well might be her most lasting contribution to our community.” 

Another highlight for Cohen – who also was a peer adviser at the Office of African-American Affairs – was serving as a moderator on a panel of student leaders for the Martin Luther King celebration series last year.

Cohen’s humility is one of things that makes her so special, according to Rockwell. “Chloe’s genuine style of leadership allows her to inspire others to action in the most gentle, subtle ways,” she said.

Cohen, who majored in Spanish as an undergrad, interned with an Atlanta City Council member last summer. Focusing on urban planning and learning about all the things that can affect people’s everyday lives was eye-opening.

That experience led to her becoming interested in urban policy areas such as housing and transportation.

“I just see housing as the foundation of life as we know it,” she said. “If you don’t have a place to live, how are you going to work? How are you going to vote and exercise your rights as a citizen? There’s just so much that housing is tied to – like the school you can go to and the education that you can get.

“With different zoning policies, we’re seeing people get pushed out to the peripheries, where they have less access to transportation and they have to travel much farther to get to work. … I think housing is just one of the foundations of our lives.”

Of course, Cohen hopes to stay involved in music, too. She plans to seek out singing groups in her new community as soon as she gets settled.

“I think it’s a great way to supplement your life and relieve stress,” she said, “and just tap into a community.

“It will always be a big part of my life.”