Meet Matha Thornton, Fisher’s New Student Affairs Leader
At 18, Matha Thornton stepped on the campus of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill as a first generation college student to study political science. While there, she served as a resident assistant, which offered her a glimpse of life in student affairs. And after that, she never really left college.
Aside from a short-lived stint studying to be an accountant, Thornton’s career has taken her from a residential life professional to several administrative roles at various colleges. Along the way, she earned advanced degrees in higher education from Florida State University and the University of Virginia.
Now, following a five-year tenure at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, Thornton joins the Fisher family as vice president for student affairs and dean of students. College News Highlights scheduled office hours with Thornton to learn more about her philosophy toward student life and the path she took from Carolina Blue to Cardinal Red.
On higher education as a higher calling:
I think college is a critical time. You are learning who you really are and figuring out how to align what you want to do in the world with your values. For most students, it’s their first opportunity to be an independent adult, and I like being able to help them as they face challenges and enjoy successes.
Learning in classroom is what brings students to Fisher. But being able to guide them and support them in their personal growth and learning outside the classroom is something that I enjoy and valued personally when I was 18 years old.
On challenges—new and old—that college students face:
Technology, obviously, has changed greatly in the last 20 years and has impacted campuses both positively and negatively.
There is an increase in challenges around mental and physical health; and we must make sure students have the support they need.
But, the core of growing up and figuring out who you are and how you want to be in the world when you graduate – those challenges are fundamentally the same.
On her first impressions of Fisher:
It’s a very welcoming, very warm place. When I met with students [during the search process], they said, ‘It is not normal how much we love our college,’ and the more time I spent with different folks, the more I could really feel the Fisher family.
The student affairs team is phenomenal. I am also excited for the opportunity to partner with other divisions such as academic affairs and athletics. Our partnerships and the integrated experiences we offer at the College are key in terms of student success. I’m excited about the work we’ll be focusing on related to housing and residential life, leadership, and social justice issues.
On goals for her first semester:
I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the good work being done in student affairs and across campus and finding out from students what is going well and where they need more support.
On lacing up her sneakers for her first big campus event:
I’ll happily serve the late night breakfast during the Teddi Dance for Love, but I’m a terrible dancer. I want students to get to know me in a positive way, and my dancing might not accomplish that goal!