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University of Missouri

Choosing Between Two Columbias

Professor Lori Thombs has spent her entire career at South Carolina and Mizzou.

Lori Thombs

Lori Thombs, associate professor in statistics, in her MU office with a watercolor print of the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe campus on the wall. Photo by Rob Hill.

Every November for 18 years, Lori Thombs’ university burned a tiger mascot in effigy.

She didn’t build it herself or anything — that’s handled by the University of South Carolina’s engineering students. They construct the three‐story feline for the annual “Tiger Burn” pep rally that precedes their gridiron grudge match with the cross‐state rival Clemson Tigers. But still, after nearly two decades of being primed to curse the big cat, it was strange for the statistics professor in 2003 to trade the Gamecocks of Columbia, S.C., for the Mizzou Tigers of Columbia, Mo.

I feel a loyalty and love of both places,” says Thombs, director of MU’s Social Science Statistics Center for the past 10 years. Attracted by the chance to do cross‐disciplinary research, Thombs came to Mizzou to be the center’s first director. Researchers from across campus come to her for assistance in using statistics in their fields.

On arrival, Thombs didn’t find the same football fervor in CoMo as she had in the Capital of Southern Hospitality, but she says in the past few years Tiger fans’ passion has caught up to their fellow Columbians.

Since 2012, when Mizzou joined South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference, the two schools have become regular opponents — including their matchup in Saturday’s Homecoming football game — which means Thombs has some choosing to do.

In preparation for her interview with MIZZOU, the statistician took “a little non‐random sample” of her friends’ opinions on which team she should root for.

One suggested she cheer for the team from Columbia.

Har‐har.”

Another proposed a mathematical solution: Based on her relative time spent in both places, 10/28 of her should support Mizzou and 18/28 should support South Carolina.

So nerdy.”

Another suggested a more practical method, asking her, “Who signs your paycheck?”

In the end, “after much thought and consideration,” Thombs let her gold sweater and black blazer do the talking.

Because I live here now,” she says. “It’ll be fun, as we continue our great season, to bask in the glory. So that will be the team I push on to win Saturday.”