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2017 President

How can you give back with math?

Putting statistics to work for her community adds up to a place of belonging for the President's Award winner.

December 12, 2017

By Cory Phare

There was a point in Laura Kinney Albrecht’s journey where she didn’t see herself as a college graduate – much less a President’s Award winner.

Originally from Denver, the math major’s first college attempt in Florida during 2005 amid Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma was met with tumult of its own. After a rudderless first year, she experienced debilitating anxiety and stopped going to classes before relocating back to Colorado.

“I’m a perfectionist; I wanted everyone to think I did everything right,” Kinney Albrecht said. “It was hard to admit I was struggling.”

Flash forward nearly 10 years to the summer of 2015: With a strong familial support system in place, she decided to give college another shot – now as a Roadrunner.

That didn’t mean it would be smooth sailing, though.

“I would feel like an impostor sometimes,” she said. “But when that happened, I would just write ‘I belong’ on a piece of paper to remind myself that I do.”

After a few online classes to dip her toes in the water, Kinney Albrecht dove in headfirst. It was her first probability and statistics course where she gained both direction and confidence.

“When I got my initial exam back and it was 100 percent, I thought ‘Yeah, maybe I can do this,’” she said.

That’s an understatement. Graduating with a 3.98 GPA and as a past-president of the Actuarial Club, Kinney Albrecht credited her success to a campus community that’s helped her achieve everything she has. She mentioned Elizabeth Ribble, Ph.D and Nels Grevstad, Ph.D as two faculty in particular who have set the stage for her application to future graduate study in statistics.

“She’s got an incredible internal drive to improve that’s led to her being a top-notch student academically,” said Grevstad. “She really seems to have found a home here.”

As part of her senior project, Kinney Albrecht led a team of students to work with a local nonprofit to analyze data, giving a real world application to the expertise of her study.

“She was so impressive to work with; she’s super smart,” said Sarah McGill, senior program manager with Denver Urban Scholars (DUS). “Even more, she had fun with it – she would ask, ‘How else can we look at the data? How can I write a new program for future analysis?’”

This involved examining high school student survey measures of traits like self confidence, risk taking and problem-solving behaviors; findings have led to curriculum development and grant applications to demonstrate mentor-driven impact. And McGill noted how some of the data Kinney Albrecht helped analyze is currently being used to integrate program models as the organization, formerly known as Colorado Youth at Risk, recently merged with DUS.

More than a tangible use of her expertise, however, it’s the chance to make a difference that continues to this day.

“It was an amazing experience, and showed me I could really make an impact,” said Kinney Albrecht. “It’s not really something you think about – how can you give back with math?”

That’s a question she’s continued to ask, working with Grevstad on another volunteer project with Denver Water to identify landscape characteristics and determine water usage.

It’s been a long journey for Kinney Albrecht. And though the award-winning graduate might not know exactly where the future will take her, she’s got a winning formula to find a place to belong anywhere.

“Wherever she goes, she has a lens of caring of what she can bring to a community,” said McGill. “She’s found a great way to use both her skills and her heart.”

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