Montana State University

MSU math major, basketball player succeeds in both arenas

April 29, 2010 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Jamie Thornton, one of the tallest math majors at Montana State University and a center on the MSU women's basketball team, will graduate May 8. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- Jamie Thornton saw no reason to choose hoops over numbers or the classroom over the court.

The 6'3" math major and a center on the Montana State University women's basketball team has always seen her height as a gift to be developed, and she has always loved mathematics. Honing her abilities in both academics and athletics, she succeeded in each arena and plans to continue.

She was one of 40 top seniors who received an MSU Award of Excellence this spring. The award goes to seniors who have at least a 3.5 grade point average and have demonstrated campus leadership and community service. Thornton earned a 3.96 grade point average, was captain of the women's basketball team, helped start a recycling program in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and involved herself in other community service activities around Bozeman.

Thornton also served as president of MSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was a four-time Big Sky Conference All-Academic. She won the Bobcat Pride Award in April for best exemplifying the women's basketball program on the court and in the classroom.

"When you look at student athletes that have been successful both academically and athletically, they always have two consistent traits: work ethic and time management," said Tricia Bader-Binford, head women's basketball coach. "Jamie is extremely organized, wakes up every day with a positive attitude and has seen every obstacle as a detour rather than a road block. She commits herself in everything she does and knows you have to work hard in order to achieve the desired results."

Thornton will graduate Saturday, May 8, as one of nine women and five men in the Department of Mathematical Sciences who earned bachelor degrees in the past year. In all, she will be one of 24 women and 21 men in the department who will be recognized for earning a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.

Math interests her for two reasons, Thornton said.

"First, my mind just works that way," she said. "I like the repetition in math where you learn the steps to solve a problem and then apply them over and over again. Also, as I've gotten into higher level math, I find it really interesting the way we can model anything in nature with numbers. With just a few equations, you can explain why something happens the way it does.

"Secondly, I really appreciate that there is a right and wrong answer in math," Thornton continued. "... There is all this gray area with English and subjects like that. As long as you argue your point well, you are right. I like the fact that with a math problem, there is a correct answer. There's no gray area. You either get the problem right, or you get it wrong."

With her undergraduate studies complete and her time over as center on the women's basketball team, Thornton said she's looking forward to spending more time with friends, enjoying outdoor activities around Bozeman and watching her favorite kind of movies -- romantic comedies with Hollywood endings.

But she also plans to earn her master's degree in statistics at MSU and assist with the women's basketball program, Thornton said. After that, she's considering combining her dual passions in math and sports by becoming a college coach or working in sports statistics.

"There are usually more jobs with a master's in statistics than master's in pure math," Thornton explained.

MSU math professor Warren Esty, the mentor Thornton honored during the Excellence Award ceremony, agreed.

"Most people who major in pure mathematics end up teaching mathematics," Esty said. "If you want to do other things related to science or business, statistics is a wonderfully fine area to major in. You can usually get a job without having a Ph.D."

Thornton said Esty knows his stuff and was definitely willing to offer her great advice during her time as an undergraduate. Sharing Thornton's enthusiasm for math and sports, Esty, 65, said, "I'm a big fan of continuing sports if possible."

Others who contributed to her success at MSU were members of the Bozeman community, Thornton said. Grateful for their support, she said she wanted to give back by helping with recycling efforts, Special Olympics basketball, Lions Clubs basketball clinics, Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter and more.

Those who have supported her interests and abilities for her entire life are her parents, Thornton said. Her father, Joe, is principal at Pullman High School in Washington. Her mom, Sandy Martin, does freelance editing for schools around the Pacific Northwest. Both drove her to basketball practices when she played club ball as a youngster. Later, they drove all over Washington to watch her play basketball for her high school and guide the Pullman High School team to third place in the Washington state tournament. They also supported Thornton's academic interests from the time she joined her first math club in elementary school to the time she became valedictorian of her high school class. When she received a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at MSU, their enthusiasm continued.

"They have been so supportive through the entire process," Thornton said. "Playing college ball isn't always easy. It's not always the fairytale you think of."

Spectators got a glimpse of that this school year when Thornton injured her knee during the opening game of the Thanksgiving classic and missed the next 11 games. Thornton said it was tough to lose that much time because of an injury, but she was philosophical about it.

"You have just got to realize that stuff happens," Thornton said. "You can't control everything. It just happened. You've just got to take your lumps and roll with the punches. Stay optimistic. Keep a sunny disposition."

It's that kind of attitude that helped make Thornton a winner, Bader-Binford said.

"Jamie is the epitome of putting the team before self," the coach said. "She is the first one to praise, celebrate, cheer and encourage a teammate. She is the most positive and unselfish student athlete I have ever coached.

"She competes every day with enthusiasm, and at the end of the day, she raised the level for going above and beyond what is expected," Bader-Binford continued. "She is a true leader who has a mentality of optimism regardless of the adversity. She has been and will continue to be a winner in everything she chooses to do."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu