Department Office: Meet Caroline Thorne

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The first semester of college can be rough—just ask Caroline Thorne, academic advisor to Marriott School graduate information systems students. After losing her husband fifteen years ago, Thorne returned to college in her forties while raising four children. And then everything went up in flames, literally: a house fire displaced the family for two months, leaving Thorne scrambling to shuttle her kids around and give them a semblance of normalcy, let alone readjust to academia after a decades-long hiatus.

“I wanted to drop out because it was so hard,” Thorne remembers. “Persevering through that and actually making it to the end of my degree was a great accomplishment.” That perseverance and Thorne’s open, cheerful heart have become a boon to Marriott School students, her family, and beyond.

Thorne graduated from Utah Valley University in 2012 with a degree in behavioral studies and took a part-time job in the Marriott School’s finance department. Last year she found her home in the information systems department managing curriculum, scheduling, scholarship and admissions applications, and more. In an office filled with desk-top surprises—a mini zen garden, Jenga, even a desk bowling set—Thorne also counsels regularly with students, keeping them on track for graduation and sorting out their schedules.

“I love my students,” Thorne says. “The Marriott School draws very intelligent, very capable students, and it’s fun to help them figure out what path they’re going to be on in their next phase of life.” To get to know her students better, Thorne requires that each chat with her once per year. “But a lot of them sit down with me much more often,” she adds.

Thorne’s openness and interest in her students helps her connect with them beyond graduation requirements. “We’ve had a really emotional year, with several students facing death in their families,” says Thorne, who drew on her own experiences to offer empathy. “They know I am a listening ear, and I will share scriptures that have brought me peace. I am so blessed to be here at BYU where I can use my testimony.”

As a young woman Thorne dreamed about raising a big family, eventually putting her theater degree from BYU–Idaho on hold to become a stay-at-home mom and cosmetologist. Difficult pregnancies led her to pursue growing the family through foreign adoption, but she abandoned those plans after losing her husband. However, Thorne’s nest never stopped expanding: she eventually became a foster mom and has welcomed thirty children into her home, some for a few weeks or less, others for years.

“It’s been a blessing for the foster children to come into a home that has a single parent, where children have lost a father and have struggles,” Thorne says. “It helps them realize that bad things happen, but we still can be OK.” The foster kids and her own children, she adds, learn from each other that “you can overcome, forgive, and move beyond past hurts.”

She’s always happy to see children in her home find adoptive families, return to their own families, or come back and visit her as thriving adults. One of her foster sons recently decided to join Thorne’s family through adoption. “In a lot of ways, being a foster parent has expanded our hearts,” Thorne says.

As a working mom, free time is understandably hard to come by—but Thorne has no trouble filling it. She loves to read, searching out mysteries on tape at thrift stores (her car only has a tape deck), and sew—she specializes in aprons for every occasion. In between nurturing her yard and finishing a graduate-level certificate in academic advising, Thorne isn’t shy about getting out.

“I love to dance,” she says. “There are singles dances, and I love ballroom, so late on a Friday night, you’ll find me dancing.”

Her greatest joy, however, always has come from her family. Now a grandmother to three, Thorne loves serving and playing with her grandchildren and adult children.

“I am pretty busy, but I also know where my priorities lie—with my family. I want to spend my time with my kids.”