But Cornett-Scott did more than establish new events and organizations. She also crafted groundbreaking retention initiatives — which she prefers to call dream realization measures.
The distinction has to do with the fact that many students working with OIE come from underserved and/or low-income backgrounds. Some are the first in their family to pursue a college degree. U.S. Department of Education studies show that, nationally, more than one in four students in that demographic will drop out after their first year; about 90 percent will leave college without a degree within six years of matriculation.
“These beautiful, talented young men and women are at a systemic disadvantage through no fault of their own, and it’s our job to tip the scales in their favor,” said Cornett-Scott. “If we’re serious about empowering the inclusive leaders of tomorrow, this is where we need to start — with those that understand too well what it is to be disincluded.”
Cornett-Scott held more discussions with students, faculty members, and administrators to build a comprehensive understanding of hurdles. The research birthed six programs aimed at giving students targeted and personalized support.
The Ida B. Wells Living Learning Community was among the first. It was designed to celebrate the values and spirit of its namesake, a revered Black civil rights activist, suffragist, investigative journalist, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People co-founder born in 1862.
The program encourages first-year African American students to excel academically, and to explore culture, identity, leadership, and civic engagement as the foundation for their university experience. It features added support measures like a special orientation process to help new students integrate and fully tap into the resources of both the Office of Inclusive Excellence and greater campus community.
Students also got significant one-on-one time with Cornett-Scott, who served as their advisor. She did things like interview participants about their backgrounds, experiences, interests, and career goals to help them craft personalized schedules that would pique their intellectual curiosity and further professional ambitions without being overwhelming.
Initiations, oaths, celebratory milestone ceremonies, rites of passage, and more, were incorporated to build camaraderie and a sense of peer-to-peer responsibility.
“This is a community in the truest sense of the word,” said Cornett-Scott. She invoked Ida B. Wells’ determination to affect meaningful ethical change against all odds as a source of strength, inspiration, and solidarity. Students were encouraged to think of themselves as members of a greater civil society with deep historical roots. Participation in projects like the Black Baby Doll Drive — where OIE students distribute Black and brown dolls to children of color while teaching them positive self conception skills — drove the message home.
“None of us can achieve our greatest potential alone,” said Cornett-Scott. For that to happen, “we have to look out for one another, believe in one another, lift one another up.”