France 2022 Group Photo



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 First-Year Honors may be the right program for you!

Thorson First-Year Honors is a class, a community, and opportunities to expand your education beyond the classroom. 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! Questions? Drop us a line at


The First-Year Honors application for 2024-25 will open in November! All students who are admitted to Mines will be automatically invited to apply via email. Make sure to explore our website to learn more about Thorson First-Year Honors, and check out our sister program too – Grandey First-Year Honors. We share a single application that earns you consideration for both first-year honors opportunities, with the option to express your preference in your application.

  • We offer rolling admissions from the time the application opens until our programs are full. We aim to accept the majority of our incoming cohort by mid-April so that students have our decision in hand in time for National Decision Day.
  • Early Bird Deadline – Friday March 1st, 2024: Applying early will increase your chances of getting a spot in your preferred First-Year Honors pathway, and will ensure that you are eligible for our (optional but encouraged!) First-Year Honors Explore Signature Learning Community in Spruce Hall.

Questions? Drop us a line at


The Thorson First-Year Honors Experience class is a full-year interdisciplinary course sequence called IDEAS – Innovation and Discovery in Engineering, Arts, and Sciences. In IDEAS, students explore critical thinking, design, communication, 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.

IDEAS is taught by an interdisciplinary faculty team, with core faculty members from UHSP and guests rotating in from departments all over campus. Students work closely with one faculty member each semester in a seminar section of about 20 students, with opportunities to engage with and learn from the rest of the team – and the rest of the Thorson cohort – during our merged studio days each week. Visit the Our Team page to learn more about our current faculty and the Thorson program leadership.

The IDEAS 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), so there is no added coursework or delay to your graduation progress.


While the IDEAS course is the foundation of the Thorson program, the community we develop as a cohort is its heart. Community Associate Director Allison Caster, who is also a core member of the IDEAS faculty team, leads a team of Student Community Directors to develop local field trips, community events, and socials. Between our Welcome BBQ at the start of fall and our Year-End Gala at the close of spring, Thorsonites get together for movie and game nights, crafting, sports, and excursions into Denver and Boulder to experience the opportunities those cities offer.

Thorsonites also have the option to live in the Honors Explore Signature Learning Community. Though not required, this dorm community in Spruce Hall is highly recommended as an opportunity to form an even closer connection with other students – not just in Thorson, but also in our sister program, Grandey First-Year Honors.

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.


Study abroad with Thorson: Thorson First-Year Honors partners with the First-Year Semester Abroad Experience, offering the unique opportunity to take your first semester in Antibes, France, without missing out on the Honors experience! Thorson-Abroad students take the IDEAS class via a hybrid online experience, with remote teaching from the Thorson director and in-person collaborative learning that grounds the IDEAS topics in the Antibes location and French culture. The in-country team provides in-person support for all aspects of the experience, including tutoring from a recent Mines graduate.

Funding to support unique educational experiences: Thorson students are eligible to apply for an Honors Enrichment Award of up to $5,000 to support an immersive educational experience of their own choosing. Examples include educational travel, study abroad, conference participation, and much more. Thorsonites are eligible up until their last year at Mines, and students who earn these awards serve as Thorson Scholars to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the Thorson community. 

Extend your Thorson experience past the first year: Each year, we hire a team of Thorson alumni to serve as Student Community Directors and in-class Teaching Assistants. They help mentor, tutor, and engage with the next Thorson cohort, while also gaining valuable skills in collaboration, constructive feedback, community engagement, and more.

Visit the Honors Enrichment Awards page to learn more about all these opportunities!


Honors at Mines means interdisciplinary explorations that bring a broader and deeper perspective to your STEM education. Honors at Mines does not mean more homework, faster pacing, or advanced levels of a single discipline.

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 ways society and technology interact and intersect, 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 individually and in teams. Our Thorson alumni report that the IDEAS course “changes the way they think” and provides a creative outlet that balances their engineering courseload.

Intrigued by the sound of First-Year Honors but not sure Thorson is the perfect fit? Make sure to check out our sister program, Grandey First-Year Honors, which takes a leadership approach to the same interdisciplinary topics of design, communication, and ethics.


First-Year Honors has been designed to prepare students to succeed in upper-level University Honors and Scholars programs, such as the McBride Honors Program, Undergraduate Research, and the Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program. Thorson teaching assistants and student directors (who are all Thorson alumni) 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.


Smiling students standing behind a display of their design idea, including a scale model of the room they envisioned.

Join us for our Fall ’23 DESIGN EXPO!

Thorson First-Year Honors students have developed design concepts to improve or support wellness for students at Mines. Come engage with their design exhibits and provide feedback on their ideas! 

ALL are welcome at this public event! Light refreshments will be provided. 

  • When: Friday, 11/17, 10:30 am to 1:00 pm 
  • Where: Student Ballroom A, in the Student Center on the Mines campus (1620 Maple St., Golden)

Questions? Email Director Lauren Shumaker, 

Interested in Thorson?

The First-Year Honors application opens in November each year, with rolling admissions until our programs are full (usually in May). Come find us at Discover and Explore Mines, or watch your email for Q&A Webinar invites and lots more information!