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Better Education for Wyoming

The John P. 'Jack' Ellbogen Deanship


The John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Deanship in the College of Education is a named deanship—what does that mean, exactly?

A deanship is the head of a college, while a named deanship is supported by a permanent endowment and, therefore, has additional resources to draw on to achieve strategic priorities and further excellence in the college. 

“My dad passed away in 2001, twenty years ago,” says Mary Ellbogen Garland, who leads the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity at the perfect time to honor my dad and his vision, as well as the work the foundation has been allowed to do over the years.”

The Ellbogen Deanship is the University of Wyoming’s first named deanship, and on July 1 of this year, the deanship was filled by an eminent scholar and educational leader—Dr. Scott Thomas.

One of the goals of the deanship was to attract a highly qualified pool of candidates. “I’m happy to say that’s exactly what happened,” says Garland. “Dean Scott Thomas certainly fits the bill with his skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience—and maybe most of all his passion for education and desire to move the college forward. I look forward to working with him.”

Dean Thomas confirms that the endowed position was what initially caught his attention: “The named deanship was the first thing that attracted me to look at the position.” He hadn’t been considering moving, but then the story of Jack Ellbogen resonated with him. “The position stood on its own merits after that, but I can’t overstate the impact of the smart and substantial investment of endowing a position like this.” The honor of a named deanship combined with the permanent strategic resourcing it offers are huge advantages for anyone interested in the deanship.

Dean Thomas says that he is incredibly honored not only to serve as the inaugural John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean but also the trust placed in him by the Ellbogen Foundation and the University of Wyoming. “Jack’s legacy in the state is incredibly motivating,” he says. “It’s an honor to build on the solid foundation of his legacy, drawing on the energy of his own education experience and vision.”

Dean Thomas’s leadership is based on three principles that will have a long-lasting impact on the state. He says:

These principals align powerfully with the goals of the Ellbogen Foundation.

“Our children are our future,” says Garland. “For children to reach their full potential, quality teaching matters, second only to family. It’s a focal point of the effort.” Garland credits her father and the foundation he created first and foremost, but she also credits the foundation board, her coworkers, and the wonderful partnerships that have been created across the state. “Success does not happen in isolation,” she says.

Born in Worland, Jack Ellbogen earned a bachelor’s in history and then a law degree from UW. Later, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the College of Business. He served in the military during World War II and then spent his career as an independent oil producer, a term he used with pride.

He then passed his success along by establishing the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. “My dad really loved the state of Wyoming, and he proved that through his actions,” says Garland. “It goes back to his mom—his mom was a schoolteacher. At a very early age, my dad understood the value of education.”

The Ellbogen Foundation has established endowments and provided other support to all the colleges across campus and many other programs too.

Dean Thomas earned his degrees in sociology and education policy, leadership, and research methods at the University of California – Santa Barbara. About his education, Dean Thomas says, “My interest became focused on the role of education in creating strong communities, promoting intergenerational mobility, and understanding the equities and inequities to accessing quality educational opportunities. Education is the single most powerful vehicle for socioeconomic mobility and robust democracy.”

As a faculty member, Dean Thomas made significant contributions to our understanding of the central role of education in society. He eventually moved into an administrative role because it allowed “working with an entire college of people as energetic and passionate about what they do as I am—enabling their excellence and success creates an impact on our shared interests in education that far exceeds what I could do on my own.”

Dean Thomas is particularly excited for the opportunity to be part of the education community in Wyoming. “The University of Wyoming is the only university preparing educators in the state. If we get this wrong here, it echoes across the state for generations. But when we get it right, the power of improving student learning, supporting families, and strengthening communities across Wyoming will be transformative.”

He adds, “I come to Wyoming with great energy and resolve. The Ellbogen Deanship is certainly a big part of it.

Garland adds, “I often hear my dad’s voice in my head, and I wish I could have a few minutes across the table from him taking a look at what’s happened at the foundation over the last 20 years.” She remembers his words of encouragement as she was growing up: “You’re doing just swell,” he would say. It makes Garland smile. “When I think about this conversation with my dad, in the final analysis (of the foundation), I think he’d say we’d done just swell.”

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