The Thorson First-Year Honors Experience is a unique, collaborative, arts-based approach to learning that uses real-world problems to explore design, ethics, and communication. Working closely with some of the best teachers across the humanities, engineering, and sciences, students in the Honors community come to see how the global challenges of the future require innovative and creative thinking.

Expand the sections below to learn more about the program, and check out our FAQs page for more in-depth discussion about the Thorson experience, the application, and the IDEAS class, including some input from past students!


The curricular component of the Thorson First-Year Honors Experience is a 2-semester interdisciplinary course sequence called IDEAS – Innovation and Discovery in Engineering, Arts, and Sciences. In IDEAS, students explore critical thinking, design, and ethical problem-solving through a multitude of lenses: they learn to think like an artist, an engineer, a designer, an activist, a poet, and a scientist. To learn more, explore our Syllabus. (Internal links have been removed as they connect to our student-only Canvas site.)

The course sequence fulfills core curriculum requirements for all majors by replacing two required core courses (HASS 100 Nature and Human Values and EDNS 151 Cornerstone Design I).


Co-curricular components of the program include local field trips, community events and socials, and opportunities for international travel or other honors enrichment experiences to investigate the intersection of art, design, culture, and society. Thorsonites also have the option to live in the exclusive “Thorson Explore” Themed Learning Community (learn more here!). Through all of these experiences and interactions, learning extends past the traditional boundaries of the classroom into the lasting friendships that students develop over the course of their first year at Mines.


Students who thrive in Thorson are those who are passionate about their STEM interests but reluctant to leave their humanities coursework behind. If you loved your English or art or music classes in high school, if your vision of college includes spirited debates about complex issues, or if you’re eager to explore the connections between technology and society, Thorson First-Year Honors might be right for you.

In the Thorson IDEAS course, you’ll read and discuss literary essays; practice expressive and technical modes of visual communication; and carve your own path through open-ended projects. Our Thorson alumni report that the IDEAS course “changes the way they think” and provides a creative outlet that balances their engineering courseload.


The Thorson First-Year Honors Experience has been designed to prepare students to succeed in upper-level University Honors and Scholars programs, such as the McBride Honors Program, the Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program, and more. Thorson teaching assistants are commonly involved in other UHSP offerings and can offer first-hand experience and advice about applying. It’s never too early to get involved in these programs, and many participants get started in their first year at Mines. For more information about the other UHS programs and opportunities, visit


Don Thorson (center), with students Karah Han, Julia Eiken, Jack Guidroz, and Griffin Hampton


Don Thorson, born in 1933, grew up in the oil field in Newcastle, Wyoming. At the age of 4, after his father sustained a severe injury, Don accompanied his dad to the oil field, turning the key and lifting the reverse lever on the pickup.

When Don was 8, his father bought his own oil production equipment, and the two continued to work side-by-side each summer. Over time, Don and his dad became engaged in bentonite processing. Bentonite is a type of clay used across many industries that is prized for its ability to absorb moisture. Don first began to learn about bentonite processing by watching the water pumps. In 1947, the first Thorson bentonite plant broke ground; Don even participated in its construction by shoveling sand and hauling water for the concrete mix equipment. After the plant was operational, Don was responsible for running the test drill, drying the clay, and hauling material.

Don graduated high school and enrolled at Colorado School of Mines, ultimately earning a degree in geophysics in 1955. Each summer, he’d return home to work at the plant, combining his formal education with invaluable hands-on experience. After college, Don was drafted into the Army, who sent him to work on surveying projects in Iran. Upon completion of this service, Don resumed his partnership with his father, who had started an oil company. Don was in charge of the oil company for some 35 years before selling it in 1990. To this day, Don and his brother serve in an advisory role to the family bentonite business.

Through Don’s generosity, the Thorson First-Year Honors Experience was launched in August 2016. On behalf of the program leadership, faculty, alumni, and students: thank you, Don. We couldn’t do this without you.


New Thorsonites: Come to our Welcome Webinar!

We’re so excited to welcome our incoming Thorson 2022-23 cohort! We know you have many questions about what to expect for fall semester, so we’re hosting two webinars in July. The Thorson Director will address FAQs and answer your questions live, and you’ll have the opportunity to meet and chat with a few of your new classmates through some Zoom-friendly activities. Check your email for the official invitation to RSVP, and email if you have any questions or have not received the email.

The two webinar dates are Wednesday, July 13th, 4:00 pm MST and Tuesday, July 26th, 4:00 pm MST. Can’t make it? Don’t worry – these are entirely optional, and we are happy to answer questions by email.

Apply to be a Thorsonite!

Do you love literature, the arts, or spirited discussions on complex topics? Do you want to help steer the direction of your education, using issues you care about to explore ethics and design? Are you passionate about STEM but yearning to stay connected to the humanities too?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, Thorson may be the right program for you!

We have just a few spots left for 2022-23, so apply today! Download the application here and submit your response by email to, with the subject line “Thorson Honors Application.” 

Have you already received an offer to join Thorson? Don’t forget to complete our Acceptance Agreement!

Questions? Check out our FAQs page or drop us a line at