Interview with Brandon Thornton, Class of 2011, 2016, and 2023



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Oral history interview with Illinois State University alum Dr. Brandon Thornton, Class of 2011, 2016, and 2023. The interview was conducted on July 7, 2023 by Milner Library Digitization Center intern Paige Malloy. Throughout the interview, Thornton emphasizes the importance of hands-on experiences, community engagement, and the supportive environment at ISU in shaping his personal and professional growth.

Thornton recalls growing up in Rock Island, Illinois. He first encountered ISU while visiting his brother during Sibling Weekend at the age of 10. His interest in the university grew over time, influenced by positive experiences during visits and recommendations from teachers who were ISU alumni. Thornton majored in mathematics education at ISU, inspired by his passion for teaching instilled by his mother, who ran a daycare center.

Thornton highlights the significant impact of the Golden Apple Scholars program on his teaching career. Through the program, he gained hands-on teaching experience, participated in reflection seminars, and traveled to various locations, including Tanzania, which broadened his perspective on education. He also discusses his leadership roles in Student Government, including his service as both an on-campus and off-campus senator, as well as his participation in organizations like the Show Choir, Men's Glee Club, and Alternative Spring Breaks.

Following his undergraduate degree, Thornton initially considered joining the Peace Corps but ultimately accepted a teaching position at Bloomington High School. He taught math for eight years before recognizing the need for further training in special education, leading him to pursue a master's degree in the field. He later returned to ISU a third time for his doctoral degree in education, researching the school to prison pipeline as it relates to Black boys with disabilities.

Thornton describes having mixed feelings about his acceptance at ISU as a queer Black man. He describes key faculty and staff as supportive of his identity, but also questions why he was often the only Black person in the room. As an alum, Thornton continues to stay involved with ISU, aiming to inspire the next generation of students. His advice to incoming students and future teachers emphasizes the importance of seeking diverse experiences outside the classroom to solidify their passion for education and working with children.

Interview Date



  • Introduction: 00:00-00:21
  • Childhood and family: 00:21-01:21
  • First memories of ISU: 01:21-01:44
  • Majoring in mathematics as an undergraduate: 01:44-02:47
  • Interest in teaching: 02:47-03:51
  • Memories of the math department: 03:51-05:11
  • Golden Apple program: 05:11-07:51
  • Involvement in Student Government: 07:51-09:40
  • Importance of community involvement: 09:40-10:34
  • Additional extracurriculars: 10:38-13:12
  • Fighting for a smoke-free campus: 13:12-14:26
  • Impact of travel in shaping Thornton’s teaching philosophies: 14:26-15:53
  • Working at Bloomington Public Schools: 15:53-18:10
  • Pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees: 18:10-21:42
  • Influential faculty members: 21:42-23:33
  • ISU’s impact on Thornton’s teaching style: 23:33-25:17
  • Connection to Bloomington-Normal: 25:15-26:30
  • Navigating ISU as a queer Black student: 26:42-30:55
  • Attempting to introduce Alternative Breaks to Bloomington High School: 30:59-33:05
  • Changes to ISU since Thornton’s arrival: 33:05-35:17
  • Proudest accomplishments at ISU: 35:17-36:20
  • Advice to students of education: 36:20-38:35

Interview with Brandon Thornton, Class of 2011, 2016, and 2023