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A career defined by four simple ‘action words’

Corliss Bennett-McBride, director of the USC Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs (Photo/Lauren Studios)

The Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs (CBCSA) turned 35 last year, and Director Corliss Bennett-McBride is poised to celebrate her 14th year of running the center.

Though her high school counselor told her she “wasn’t mature enough” to go to a four-year institution, Bennett-McBride ignored the negativity, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from the University of California, Riverside, and taught middle school in Los Angeles for four years.

While earning her master’s degree in international and multicultural education with an emphasis in student affairs at the University of San Francisco, Bennett-McBride began working in admissions, which she continued at her first USC job in 1996.

“Because of my background and because of not being supported in high school, I know firsthand what it feels like for students when they’re trying to do the process of admissions,” said Bennett-McBride, a first-generation college graduate.

Bennett-McBride began at the CBCSA in 1999. Her goal was to make the center a “welcoming environment” by developing programs that focused on what she called her four “action words.”

“My four words — attract, recruit, retain and graduate,” she said. “So our programs and services do that.”

Through the CBCSA, Bennett-McBride helps both current and prospective students navigate USC.

“Corliss is a vibrant presence in CBCSA,” said Denzil Suite, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “It’s clear that she cares deeply about students and goes out of her way to assist them on an individual basis.”

On a typical day, Bennett-McBride runs the CBCSA and makes sure USC is a supportive environment for both black students and all students at USC. But her work doesn’t end there.

“I’m counseling; I’m mentoring; I’m mothering,” said Bennett-McBride, who has been nicknamed “Mama Corliss.”

Highlights of her time at the CBCSA include starting black graduation (now called the African-American Cultural Celebration) in 2000, introducing the African-American Resource Handbook in the 1999-2000 academic year and creating the Worship and Fellowship Series of church outings for USC students.

This year, Bennett-McBride will be awarded her doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis in higher education from the USC Rossier School of Education.

“A lot of people do their job,” she said. “This, to me, is a passion.”

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