The science of systemic change
Millicent Ruffin brings an analytic approach to tackling inequality.
Millicent Ruffin’s first memory of inequity is burned into her brain.
The death of her aunt. The call to the fire department to remove her aunt from her house. Her cousins waiting until help finally arrived. Four hours later.
“That is what an underserved community can experience,” Millicent says.
Now, as the Community Affairs director for Corning’s Office of Racial Equality and Social Unity (ORESU) Millicent hopes to help close the gap on inequality. She keeps her younger self and her cousins in mind.
“When you think about that level of trauma for a child…when you think about the lack of resources that people live with, and then you're presented with an opportunity to impact that and change that, how could you say no?” says Millicent.
Corning established ORESU in the summer of 2020 to facilitate equity and access in education, employment, and physical and mental safety in the communities where Corning operates. Since then, Millicent’s Community Affairs team within ORESU has initiated inclusive learning training in schools, sponsored the undergraduate education of 10 students of color, and helped four minority-owned businesses receive COVID relief grants.
While social outreach isn’t anything new for Millicent, it certainly wasn’t her job until recently.
For 20 years, Millicent was a scientist at Corning. A chemist by training, she managed important materials and business projects.
"I loved working in science and still do, but I also love seeing direct change in our communities,” she says. “Moving to Community Affairs in 2020 was definitely a big career pivot, but it was not a shock to me. Advocacy and social justice work is something that's always been a passion. To do it full time is a privilege.”
Millicent says that Corning's commitment to its communities goes beyond the base-level philanthropic funding companies offer. Through ORESU, Corning seeks to observe, analyze, and create programmatic solutions that community partners can sustain. It's a model that Corning is aiming to expand in its own communities — and is something it hopes other corporations can adopt.
This analytic approach directly aligns with Millicent’s science background. Her analyses inform where the team can make the most impact, like increasing diversity in schools through a grow-your-own teacher initiative in North Carolina.
“We really study the ecosystem of the problems we tackle,” she says. “For example, we see from data that there is a benefit to having more diverse teachers in the classroom. All students can build cross-cultural competencies and break down stereotypes.”
Millicent’s team also heads the Building Generational Wealth program, which places families into safe, quality, affordable housing.
“We work with the political and non-profit organizations in place in our communities. We support initiatives already underway, or we co-create. But the key is, we are there, side by side, figuring it out with them.”
The Vital Voices Podcast
As the co-host of “Vital Voices,” Millicent explores innovative ways companies can be a force for good in their communities.
“The ‘Vital Voices’ podcast is important because it amplifies the voices of local leaders working diligently to make our communities thrive. For example, educators who ensure all our students are engaged and attaining their full potential,” she says.
This chemist knows how one action can set a transformational chain in motion.
“When we take care of the communities where we operate, our employees thrive. Our neighbors thrive. Our Corning business thrives,” Millicent says. “Ultimately, we’re building a society that works better for everyone. And that’s work worth doing.”