Saturday, April 2, 2016

Donor boosts development of math, science resource center

It took Scott Thornton a few tries before he found his academic footing or a clear career path. At first he wanted to be a “ski bum,” or maybe a river rafting guide. Then he worked in the restaurant business for a while. He tried taking classes at Utah State University and Westminster University.

Scott Thornton at his Combat Films office in Salt Lake City.

At best he had a “spotty” transcript when he enrolled at Salt Lake Community College, leaning in the direction of maybe making movies someday. “When I was a kid I wanted to be a photojournalist,” Thornton said. At the time he also heard about a business called Combat Films in Salt Lake City. He walked in one day and said, “’Teach me how to make movies, and I’ll work for free.’” For about half of that first year he moved boxes, logged video tapes, took the recycling out and hauled around equipment, which he started learning how to use while attending SLCC. His favorite instructor at SLCC was Josh Gold, an associate professor of political science. “He’s probably one of the most passionate teachers I’ve ever had – I was blown away,” Thornton said.

It was that fresh start at SLCC, gaining confidence, being exposed to “engaged” professors like Gold and his new job at Combat Films that propelled Thornton into a career in making documentaries that for the past eight years has taken him around the world. As a newer board member of the Dumke Foundation, Thornton remembered his positive experience at SLCC when a letter from College President Deneece G. Huftalin came before the board, asking for a donation for the new Math, Science and Technology Resource Center. When the Center is fully functioning, it will annually serve an estimated 13,000 student requests for assistance.

SLCC holds an open house in the resource center.

“Diplomatically I think community colleges deserve more resources because the barriers to entry are so much smaller,” said Thornton. Huftalin in her letter asked the Dumke Foundation for $250,000, which she said will help the new center promote peer-learning, student-faculty engagement and student professional development.

“SLCC is working tirelessly to try to close the math and science achievement gaps for underrepresented students,” said Huftalin. “We know there are students out there who can succeed in STEM fields with just a little encouragement and support to help them find their academic confidence.  This generous gift will help us build a state of the art resource center to assist students in pursuing their dreams of a career in science, math, engineering and technology.”

Prior to the Dumke Foundation agreeing to the donation, Thornton met with Craig Caldwell, SLCC interim dean of the School of Science, Math and Engineering. Caldwell helped Thornton better understand the need to help increasingly more students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas.

“As our focus at SLCC continues to be on completion, we have recognized that the needs of community college students are unique and require new strategies to accelerate completion in math and science,” Caldwell said. “For this reason, the importance of the gift from the Dumke family can’t be overstated since it has enabled us to make a remarkable transformation of the learning support offered to our science and math students.  I am very confident that this gift will have a positive and lasting effect on the lives of our students for a very long time.”

Thornton called it a “no brainer” to support the new center at SLCC and the students it will help. “These are kids who are hungry for knowledge,” he said, adding that the gift is the start of what he hopes will be a lasting relationship with the College. “SLCC makes the most of their resources,” he said. “The amount of students served versus the money given, it’s going to service a lot of people and impact a lot of lives, and ultimately that’s the mission of the foundation.”