Thomas family gift for research honors son, an Ole and veteran
By all accounts, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adam Thomas ’07 was a nature guy.
He loved being outside, drawing nature, and creating elaborate science projects. His passion for science brought him to St. Olaf to study biology and environmental studies while competing as an All-American swimmer. His time on the Hill included research in the Natural Lands and studying abroad through the Environmental Science in Australia program.
Adam also had a heart for service. After graduation, he enlisted in the army and became a highly-decorated Green Beret and medical sergeant. His letters home from his three deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq included continuing insight on natural wonders he saw.
Adam’s very public death let us talk to many people from all areas of his life. No matter who we heard from, a commonality was that Adam loved learning, especially about science.Candace Thomas
In October 2016, Thomas was killed in action by an improvised explosive device in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. At the time of his death, many people shared memories of Adam with his family — his offbeat and warmhearted personality, his sense of humor, and his leadership.
“Adam’s very public death let us talk to many people from all areas of his life,” says Candace Thomas, Adam’s mother. “No matter who we heard from, a commonality was that Adam loved learning, especially about science.”
To honor Adam, the Thomas family established the Adam S. Thomas Endowment for Science that supports mentored research opportunities in the natural sciences. It’s enabled Assistant Professor of Physics Alden Adolph and her students to examine how snow impacts the energy budget of snow-covered regions, both locally and globally. Their findings may be able to provide more accurate predictions on climate change.
“Having undergraduate students who are passionate, willing to work hard, and really interested in the subject matter and building up their skill set has been really helpful,” says Adolph. “I’m grateful to have committed students working with me.”
“Adam had a strong service ethic and he would be pleased that this fund is supporting students who might not otherwise have the means to participate in a research program,” says Adam’s father, Will. “The idea of giving students the time and resources to work on research ideas they’re passionate about would have really appealed to him.”
Having undergraduate students who are passionate, willing to work hard, and really interested in the subject matter and building up their skill set has been really helpful. I’m grateful to have committed students working with me.Alden Adolph, Assistant Professor of Physics
The Thomas family is also establishing a family foundation in Adam’s honor that will provide grants and curriculum resources for K–12 environmental education. Candace is studying environmental science and biology to prepare for a leadership role at the foundation. Will and Adam’s sisters will serve on the foundation’s board, as will other family members and friends.
“St. Olaf holds an even more special place in my heart now that Adam’s gone,” Anna Thomas Pearson ’09 says. “The endowment fits with what was important to him. My sister Maggie and I are so appreciative that our parents have been able to make this gift possible in Adam’s name.”