Campus News

Math scholar, advocate for the underserved receives Durand Scholarship


Published December 1, 2021

Lauren Hennings.
“The higher the level of mathematics classes I enrolled in, the less I saw other Black students. ”
Lauren Hennings, doctoral student, Graduate School of Education, and recipient
Drs. Henry J. and Bonita R. Durand Scholarship

The ongoing lessons of UB’s latest Durand Scholarship recipient have come straight from her life.

Lauren Hennings always loved math, but never knew how she could make a career out of it. As an undergraduate at UB, her peers and teachers talked to her about teaching, but the idea of getting in front of a class “terrified” her.

When her mother and role model was laid off from her established civil service job, she watched this strong woman in pain and vulnerable, and vowed to find job security by excelling in school.

And now — as a recipient of UB’s Drs. Henry J. and Bonita R. Durand Scholarship, given to a student facing financial obstacles standing in the way of a graduate degree — she gets to do something about it.

“This award means a great deal to me because I have come so far, regardless of the obstacles I faced earlier this year regarding my health,” says Hennings, a non-traditional remote student living in Detroit, who returned to UB in 2017. Her ambitions: earn a doctorate in the Curriculum, Instruction and Science of Learning Program in the Graduate School of Education; teach mathematics; and hopefully become a dean.

“Furthermore, these past few months have had an impact on me due to the political pushback against Critical Race Theory (CRT),” Hennings says. “My research utilizes CRT, and it has been challenging to see myself in the crosshairs, so much so that I have questioned whether I am doing the right thing.

“This award not only helps me financially pay for my remaining credits, but gives me the drive to continue on toward finishing my degree and completing my research, despite the backlash.”

The Durand scholarship accents Hennings’ path, but her teachers have been aware of her timely academic progression for some time.

“As a current doctoral student in the UB Graduate School of Education, Lauren espouses the overall mission of our program, which is to increase the number of first-generation and underrepresented populations earning the PhD,” says Susan J. Ott, director of UB’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

A McNair Scholar when she was a UB undergraduate, Hennings’ area of concentration couldn’t be more timely: Her research looks at the effectiveness of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) for Black learners in math classrooms, based on her own experience as a Black learner in the math classroom. From fifth grade to graduate school, Hennings was always the only or one of the few Black students in class.

“The higher the level of mathematics classes I enrolled in, the less I saw other Black students,” she says. “Like many other Black students, I of course experienced racism and microaggressions. Some teachers nurtured my talent and my love for math, and some did not.

“I knew, based on my experience and well-documented research, that there was an issue of underrepresentation in mathematics among Black students. CRP addresses these issues by allowing teachers to design classrooms that are more culturally relevant to historically marginalized students by encouraging cultural competence, social justice activism and academic excellence while teaching various subjects, including mathematics.”

Drawing from her experience teaching mathematics online and how COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black learners, Hennings redesigned her research; her work now focuses on using CRP for online mathematics classes.

She studies effectiveness in raising “student engagement, confidence and motivation among Black students. Access to a quality, culturally relevant education,” she says, “should not be restricted to in-person classrooms, given the new world we are living in with COVID and online learning.”

The Durand Scholarship was established by the late UB administrator and GSE faculty member Henry Durand and his wife, Bonita, to assist students who encounter obstacles that can hinder progression toward earning a degree.

The recipient must be an alumnus of any of the following UB undergraduate programs: Student Support Services, Daniel Acker Scholars, Collegiate Science and Technology Entry (CSTEP), the Arthur O. Eve Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) or the McNair Scholars Program. Preference is given to graduate students who demonstrate they are overcoming socioeconomic barriers in order to pursue graduate studies at UB.

Hennings is the third recipient of the scholarship.

“I successfully defended my research component only a week ago,” she says, “and I will be using the Durand Scholarship to help pay for my remaining dissertation credits.”