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La Jerne Terry Cornish

IC’s president, La Jerne Terry Cornish, brings her authentic self to all she does and is committed to sustaining the college’s culture of inclusion.  

La Jerne Terry Cornish

La Jerne Terry Cornish speaks to graduates, family members, and supporters at a 2019 reception for December graduates. 

In high school, La Jerne Terry Cornish didn’t think she’d be able to attend college. Yet thanks to a teacher who believed in her, she was given a chance to excel and is now the president of one. 

“I got here because somebody saw something in me, and they helped me grow and develop,” La Jerne says. “And I believe it's my responsibility to do the same for others that was done for me.” 

La Jerne is dedicated to fostering a thriving community that builds on students’ talents and passions. That deep appreciation for the transformative impact of educators stems from her own experience.  

La Jerne wasn’t planning on attending college—she was focused on caring for her mother, who was ill. But when La Jerne’s history teacher discovered that her promising student was not applying to college, she connected La Jerne with her alma mater, Baltimore’s Goucher College, which awarded La Jerne a full scholarship.  

This was only the start of a long academic and professional relationship with the institution. La Jerne earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Goucher (along with a doctorate from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and later served as the college’s first tenured Black professor and associate provost for undergraduate studies. 

“I got here because somebody saw something in me, and they helped me grow and develop. And I believe it's my responsibility to do the same for others that was done for me.” 

In 2018, La Jerne was hired as IC’s provost and made the move to Ithaca from Baltimore with her wife, Deborah.  

Though the upstate New York college town of Ithaca has neither Charm City’s famous waterfront nor a Super Bowl championship title (let alone two), La Jerne’s new home does boast 150 waterfalls, and its weather also gives La Jerne ample opportunity to showcase her trademark fashion: turtlenecks.  

“Part of the joy for me in coming to Ithaca was that I realized that I could wear them for seven months out of the year,” she laughs.  

Four years later, La Jerne’s enthusiasm for snow may have dimmed, but the pride she feels in being her authentic self each day—personally and professionally—has not.  

“When my wife and I moved to Ithaca, I made the choice that I needed to be completely out and open, and that I was going to honor all of me and bring all of me to what I do,” La Jerne shares. “And I have to say how wonderful it feels to know that I can be me, that I can lead, that I can be a model, not for some, but for all.” 

Whenever La Jerne has the opportunity to meet a student, one message she consistently emphasizes is that Ithaca College is a place that applauds authenticity and empowers students—just as La Jerne’s high school history teacher and professors at Goucher empowered her.  

“You can come here knowing who you are, and you can come here not knowing who you are,” La Jerne says. “But when you leave here, you will be prepared to think creatively, critically, analytically. And you will do that with confidence and competence.”