Thomas came to Western after a fortuitous encounter with the campus while road tripping from out East.
He previously attended a large school in his home state of Delaware, where he was unsure of his course of study and felt disengaged in his classes of over 300 students.
“I found myself losing a lot of time and credits not knowing what I wanted to do,” Thomas said.
Dropping out and packing all his belongings into a car proved to be a wise decision. Despite facing significant financial strain and a multitude of car problems along the way, he admitted, “It was the best year of my life.”
When Thomas wasn’t stuck or stranded, he aimed to tour as many national parks as he could, soaking in the unique and grandiose landscapes of each. This time off allowed him to realize his passion for the geological sciences and ultimately led to his arrival in the Gunnison Valley—a virtually endless geological laboratory.
“My girlfriend and I were getting groceries [in Gunnison] and saw that there was a university,” Thomas said. “We made the decision to attend almost instantly.”
Since Thomas’s arrival nearly three years ago, his passion, work ethic and talent have earned him prestige on campus.
“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Joey,” praised Geology professor Robert Fillmore, Ph.D. “He is as intelligent as students come … and is enthusiastic in everything he does.”
Such enthusiasm is not only evident by his engagement in school, but also by how he most often spends his free time. Rather than hitting the ski slopes every weekend, Thomas said that he prefers to go out hunting for rocks.
Thomas also has a keen interest in politics. He was elected as a delegate to Bernie Sanders for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) all the way up from the Gunnison County precinct.
“It was amazing to see the details of the political process in a way most citizens don’t,” he said.
In addition to attending the DNC as a delegate, Thomas is highly involved in Western’s Model United Nations (MUN) team. Anyone familiar with MUN would understand its high demands, but Thomas is too humble to boast about his involvement.
“It’s a hobby, I guess,” he said.
“Joey leads by example and does it very well,” said Allie Huizenga, MUN teammate.
While Thomas’s political involvement may appear surprising as a science major, his intentions to blend geology and politics are clear.
“I want to be able to take the sciences and influence legislation,” he said. “Communicating is the most important thing a scientist can do and I have been able to practice this through being a DNC delegate and participating in Model UN.”
Fillmore has seen Thomas’s combination of passions work their way into the classroom.
“His writing has become fantastic … we need people who can communicate,” Fillmore said. “The combination of science and politics is going to take him so far.”
Upon graduation this May, Thomas plans to spend the summer doing fieldwork around the Rocky Mountains and then pursue a masters program in geology at Idaho State University, starting in the fall.
Story by Peter Noon.