The New Honors Explorer Floor: Bringing Fresh IDEAS

It is no news that Mines is expanding. Each new class is larger and more diverse than the last, and there are new construction projects on every campus corner. The McBride Honors Program is expanding as well: the current sophomore class has 46 members, which is twice the size of the next largest class! McBride is also reaching out to freshmen; in partnership with the honors program, two floors in Bradford Hall house the Explorers Theme Learning Community (TLC), which consists of enthusiastic first-year honors (FYH) students.

“My overall focus for this TLC is to explore: exploring Colorado, exploring the sciences, exploring the mind,” stated Ben Burckel, a resident assistant on the Explorer floor. “Every student has a variety of passions and interests. This TLC has the capacity to explore all of them!”Burckel also plans to coordinate a floor-wide day at the museums in Denver, as well as attending an event downtown for Project Worthmore, a nonprofit refugee organization.

“This event will allow the students to explore Denver as well as their ability to assist others,” explained Burckel.

Along with the new floor, the Explorers also take part in an all-new curriculum that blends aspects of NHV and EPICS into one comprehensive course called “Innovation and Discovery in Engineering, Arts, and Science,” or IDEAS. The course hones investigative, technical, and creative skills over a year-long time period, and focuses on the engineering, scientific, ethical, social, and artistic aspects of an overarching topic.

It is currently being taught by Dr. Mirna Mattjik and Dr. Alina Handorean, both Teaching Associate Professors in the EPICS department; Dr. Olivia Burgess, an Assistant Teaching Professor of the LAIS department; Dr. Sarah Hitt, a Teaching Associate Professor of the LAIS department; Dr. Susan Reynolds, Teaching Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department; and Dr. Toni Lefton, a Teaching Professor of the LAIS department.

The unique nature of the IDEAS program, particularly in its fusion of both LAIS and EPICS topics, presents an interesting new perspective to the professors.

“When we started brainstorming for curriculum development and the vision of what the course would look like, I was totally drawn to possibilities of using different modes of communication and pedagogy methods to support the student learning outcomes in replacement of both EPICS and NHV,” stated Mattjik. “Soon after meeting with peer instructors, the course began to evolve into an interdisciplinary endeavor that is very unique, beyond what we imagined to be a replacement of the two courses.”

Dr. Burgess said “The course seeks to challenge students by giving them open-ended problems and by emphasizing the process of inquiry.  We ask a lot of questions that have no definite answer. We hope this inspires the creative, flexible thinking that McBride courses expect from students.”

The central theme of this year’s IDEAS course is cities. The fall semester will focus on the concept of a city in terms of citizenship and identity. The spring will delve into the functionality of cities from local to global viewpoints.

“My background is in science fiction and dystopian literature,” stated Burgess. “I am very excited about weaving in science fiction stories and challenging students to think about the ‘what ifs’ of their design and engineering choices.”

Students are also excited about the unique curriculum. Tyler Pritchard, a current freshman Explorer student, has been excited by the unconventional methods in which they analyze topics in class.

“I find it particularly interesting how the IDEAS course is not afraid to investigate the darker side of engineering,” stated Pritchard, “particularly regarding the sterile nature of some of history’s most infamous engineers, such as Albert Speer.”

He is also looking forward to what the McBride program has to offer after experiencing the IDEAS course.

“Through my experiences in IDEAS, I feel as though I have come to understand the driving force behind the McBride program here at Mines,” stated Pritchard. “Based on the academic focus regarding ethical decision making and integrating humanitarian virtues into engineering, it seems apparent that the goal of the McBride program is to take away the sterile, robotic stereotype that often accompanies the occupation of engineering.”

Both students and staff are hopeful that the school’s growing population will foster a greater interest in the McBride Honors programs at Mines.

“Through empowering the next generation of engineers to understand ethics and moral dilemmas,” stated Pritchard, “the McBride Program is pursuing the altruistic goal of producing engineers that understand the implications behind the solutions they are designing for the world.”

Photo above courtesy McBride Honors Program




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