Supporting Critical Thinkers

by | Oct 3, 2017 | Alumni Network, Fall 2017 | 0 comments

Don Thorson ’55  has been an innovative problem-solver since his earliest days growing up on an oil field in Newcastle, Wyoming. When he was six years old, he found an abandoned eight-foot oil tower. “I could make myself a drilling rig and I could drill holes in the ground with that. It worked just like the big ones did,” Thorson recalled.

His father, who first owned a small oil field containing five wells and then went on to mine bentonite, was always trying his hand at different things and encouraged Thorson to think about problems with fresh eyes. In his teenage years, Thorson would watch what other people were doing and how the specialized oil and then bentonite equipment worked; he was known for revamping machinery to make it into something he could use for a different job.

Thorson graduated from Mines with a geophysics degree and went on to have a successful career in oil and gas and bentonite production. Bentonite is typically used in drilling mud for oil and gas wells, and has recently been integrated into kitty litter, because it can absorb about 15 times its volume when it comes into contact
with liquid.

Because he values the ability to engineer solutions, Thorson wants to help Mines students become critical thinkers. He is a major donor to the senior design program and has judged the competitions for 10 years.

He says that “senior design gives application to real world problems” and is the reason why he has chosen to pay it back and invest in tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

He also supports the honors program, an interest that originated from his ethics work with Hillsdale College, a liberal arts university that grew his interest in the humanities. Through his generosity, the Thorson First Year Honors Program was created. Up to 100 freshmen are accepted into this program each year. The students live together in a learning community, and through a class called Innovation and Discovery in Engineering, Arts and Sciences (IDEAS), they are encouraged to think about how real-world engineering problems can be solved.

“My involvement in the Thorson First Year Honors Program not only shaped my first-year experience at Mines, but also shaped me as a person,” said Madison Anderson, one of the select students enrolled as a freshman in the program. “From the first day of class to the last, my professors consistently challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone. They encouraged me to take risks and pushed me to think about the unseen, question the known and challenge the existing norms.”

As Thorson looks back on his time in the industry, he knows there was hardly a day when he didn’t have to use his creativity and inventiveness to solve problems. He’s proud to be able to help Mines students gain those skills.