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Published April 6, 2021


Scholarships help a GSE student overcome financial obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic

GSE master’s degree student shifts career and aims to help equip Black entrepreneurs with information

When Charice Thompson, BA ’18, returned to UB to finish the bachelor’s degree in political science she’d started two decades ago, her goal was to show her children the importance of higher education.

Once she finished, she headed straight to graduate school with another ambition—to forge a career that would allow her to assist other Black entrepreneurs. At first, she was inspired by the civil rights movement and wanted to be a lawyer. But when she didn’t get into law school, she had to pivot. The memory of a nurturing grammar school librarian, helped lead her to enroll in GSE’s information and library science master’s degree program.

“I realized that there’s more than one way to approach something,” said Thompson. “I had to make a shift.”

While studying at GSE, she has developed a legal research expertise during a law library practicum. She knows how to find answers to questions and help tackle business conundrums. These skills bring her one step closer to her goal of helping other business owners navigate the kind of problems she’s faced as an entrepreneur.

Then, when the pandemic interrupted her work at her Amherst Sittin’ Pretty hair salon, there was a lull in business. Knowing extra money could help, Thompson took advantage of the quiet to search her UB email inbox for scholarship notices to assist in addressing a potential financial gap.

She applied for two. By November, she won both—along with a GSE spring tuition waiver based on her academic merit.

Scholarships make a difference

In addition to winning a New York Library Association Dewey Scholarship, Thompson became the inaugural recipient of the Drs. Henry J. and Bonita R. Durand Scholarship, designed to help graduate students who are alumni of the undergraduate programs at UB’s Cora P. Maloney Center. Preference is given to first generation students and those who are facing social and economic barriers as they pursue degrees at GSE or in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture and Planning.

For Thompson, the award was a welcome financial assist and morale boost. She was moved by the show of support for her hard work. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s more important right now because of the pandemic … A good thing after all that’s happened in the last year.”

Portrait of Henry J. Durand.

Henry J. Durand (Provided photo)

The Durand Scholarship was established by the late Henry Durand, UB associate vice provost of academic affairs and GSE clinical associate professor, and his wife, Bonita, the former chief of staff to the president of SUNY Buffalo State.

Henry Durand, who died in 2019, was honored at commencement that year for his work championing students. A video tribute described his career that included more than two decades as director of UB’s Educational Opportunity Program.

In it, his wife remembered how supporting talented students confronting social and economic disadvantages was “his life’s purpose.” “He called it his ministry,” she said.

Thompson was a strong fit for the scholarship. She stood out to selection committee member Shanna Crump-Owens for her focus and skill at balancing her business, graduate studies and raising two children—Baron, 12, and Emerald, 10.

“She certainly has been a role model for others while striving to be her best,” said Crump-Owens, director of UB’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program. “She was so persistent to come back to UB.”

A career driven by experience

As Thompson’s studies converged with the pandemic’s challenges and social justice protests, she began to consider how to integrate her library-science work with civil rights and social change.

Charice Thompson standing outside her hair salon.

Charice Thompson stands outside her hair salon, Sittin' Pretty in Amherst, New York.

Her experience as an entrepreneur motivated her. As she thinks back on her beginnings, she believes having more information about the law and business aid would have helped her better understand her rights when confronting racism and other challenges that started 20 years ago when she opened her original salon. Back then, the owner of a house across the street covered the front door with a Confederate flag. Rent increases seemed capricious. She couldn’t get the loans she needed to expand.

“Who knows what my business would be if I was able to secure funding when I needed it?” Thompson said. “I dealt with a lot of things. I dealt with discrimination. I was young. I didn’t have the tools I needed to fight back.”

Once she finishes her GSE master’s degree this spring, she looks forward to a career connecting people with information. She has been inspired by her work in the UB Law Library, where she did a practicum, and by a government-information class project that led her to create a listing of aid and resources to help Black women business owners. She sees her professional career ahead as an opportunity to continue the law library work she loves and help other entrepreneurs. She wants to be an information bridge and a resource, guiding people to find the information they need to succeed.

“It’s just important to be informed and know what the resources are,” Thompson said. “How can I contribute to informing my community in a way that I wasn’t informed?”

Tuesday News Briefs feature the stories of the Graduate School of Education faculty, students and alumni who are engaged in their communities and making an impact through their hard work, dedication and research initiatives. If you have a story to share, please email us with the details for consideration as a future news feature.