June 18, 2024

Jan Thornton named 2024 Woman of the Year

When some people come to Utah State University Eastern they see opportunity. Jan Thornton was drawn to Eastern for that exact reason, or more specifically to lead student counseling and disability services. Little did she know at that time that the incredible work and community engagement she accomplished 110 percent of the time would net her the 2024 Woman of the Year. 

“It was a chance to apply my social work background in an educational setting,” Thornton said. In her time here, she has had the privilege to serve and grow in Eastern’s community and to her, Eastern is special because of the students. She has encountered many opportunities to watch personal and academic growth turn into success. “It’s a privilege to be part of their journey. They are at the heart of everything I do.”

The most rewarding part of her career is to see the success of her students and graduates.

Thornton has received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. She was part of USU’s first distance cohort and was able to complete her master’s remotely through University of Utah.

“This allowed me to achieve my educational goals without uprooting my life,” she said. 

She was a first-generation college student and had to navigate the complex system of higher education on her own a lot of the time. During school Thornton had to manage a tight schedule, consisting of parenting, work, classes and a clinical practicum. 

“It was a challenging period that taught me the value of time management, resilience and the power of a supportive network,” Thornton said. 

Social work wasn’t her direction at the time. Thornton first started in aerospace engineering, but a course in social work and a convincing instructor rearranged her path. Since then, she’s been dedicated to social work in numerous capacities. 

“Each experience in the field has enriched my understanding and love for this profession,” she said.

Thronton first began in juvenile justice and it provided her with the experience of understanding the social work’s system and its complexities. She then went to child and family services, working in family preservation and clinical counseling. In 2007, she came to the university which came with more opportunities, both administrative and academic. 

For a while, she ran her own private practice and worked with Pinnacle Canyon Academy as a therapist. 

“I recognized the acute need for qualified therapists in our area. I wanted to mitigate the unfortunate reality of long waitlists for therapy by equipping more students in our community to become capable practitioners,” she said. Thornton made the difficult decision on closing her practice so that she could focus on developing the next generation of social workers.

While providing services on campus, there was a chunk of time where her work extended into the night with calls coming in. 

“This demanded a level of alertness and emotional presence that was often exhausting,” she said. “The most challenging part of providing counseling services on a college campus for me lies in crisis situations,” she continues. Since having moved past the need for after-hours response, the intensity of engaging with individuals in acute distress remains a challenging part of the work for Thornton and her team.

For her, witnessing a student’s transformation is a reward as often as it is challenging. “The knowledge that they are moving forward affirms the intrinsic value of this work. It’s in these moments of triumph that I find the deepest satisfaction and the renewal of my commitment to the mental health and successes of our student body.”

     One of the achievements Thornton and her team have made this year is the creation of a multifaceted clinical experience with Four Corners Community Behavioral Health. The project is designed to engage graduate students in a varying range of service areas. To enrich their education and, at the same time, addressing the pressing needs within our community.

     Thornton said that receiving the Woman of the Year award was a deeply humbling experience for her. “Like a validating nod to the efforts I’ve poured into my work,” she continued.

     She reflected on reasons she could’ve been nominated for the award, coming to one of her primary goals. To make a positive, lasting impact wherever she can. “I’m always looking for ways to contribute meaningfully. I have a deep-seated belief in service to the community and to veterans and first responders in particular,” Thornton said. She hopes that her contributions have made a noticeable impact.

     “It is my sincere wish that those who nominated and selected me for the award understand the depth of my appreciation,” she said. It has renewed her motivation to uphold the trust and expectations it symbolizes.

     She pointed out that this achievement is not hers alone. It is intensely blended with the accomplishments of her own students and graduates.

     “Our collective impact is the real story worth telling,” she said.

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