Funding the Future
The Thornton Biology Research Program started with a donation from the estate of former Colorado governor and Gunnison rancher Daniel Thornton. When Thornton’s wife, Jessie Willock, died in 1972, she willed $50,000 to Western to seed a biology scholarship that could be used to help students in need.
Since then, the Thornton endowment has grown to over $1.9 million, and the annual interest pays for student research opportunities and covers travel costs for undergraduates to attend conferences. The funds are also distributed to the Thornton Chair, biology lab coordinator, and chemistry stock room manager, as well as covering the cost of teaching release time for faculty that allows professors to focus on their own research. Because of a generous gift given 50 years ago, Mountaineers gain real, hands-on experience that will help propel them into their careers.
Student Research Projects
Anton Burt used the Thornton Biology Research Program funds to research bighorn sheep in Colorado’s Cochetopa Canyon. After his study concluded, Burt’s experience helped him earn a position radio-collaring and tracking newborn bighorn sheep in northwestern Wyoming to help with mortality studies around the Grand Tetons.
Dylan Keller participated in the Thornton-funded Taylor River isotopes project. Through this experience, he got a summer job working at a fish hatchery in Nebraska. Now that the isotopes project research is wrapped up, Kamis Monohan is taking the lead on data analysis and writing the study results. When she’s finished, Kamis will have a published manuscript of their findings.
David Hopp is an alumnus who graduated in 2022 with a double major in biology and chemistry. Hopp was involved in a Thornton-funded phylogenomics study focused on the evolutionary relationships and taxonomy of pike minnows relative to other western minnows. He hopes to use his experience to pursue a Ph.D. and his passion for research.
Because of a generous gift from the Thornton estate and many others like it, students at Western have the chance to gain valuable experience and contribute to important research. By providing the necessary resources to both students and faculty, endowments and scholarship funds create opportunities that leave an indelible mark on Western’s culture of curiosity.