The Tale of Two HASS Pathways

Image courtesy of Molly Adams.

As you all know, Mines students can choose one of two paths when it comes to liberal arts education: the McBride Honors program, or simply taking the foundational and elective courses required by their degree. In the following article, News Editor Sophia Becker and Editor-in-Chief Shannon Keohane discuss their experiences taking the traditional and McBride routes, respectively.


Choosing upper-level Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) electives might be one of the most daunting tasks in the eyes of a Mines underclassmen. Because these courses can be so hard to get into, especially as a younger student, it’s not uncommon for sophomore students to panic and try to enroll in any course that has seats left post-junior/senior registration. As a recent Mines graduate, I’m writing to tell you that there are definitely some courses that are worth the wait.

The Mines HASS department has been working hard to improve the liberal arts courses offered to the general Mines undergraduate population, introducing new and creative courses despite their limited staff. This is not to say that their consistent offerings are unsatisfactory, just that they have been putting in an admirable effort towards expanding their offerings to appeal to the interests and requests of more students.

At the time that I took HASS200, it was still called Human Systems and was not divided into multiple topics, so I won’t be able to provide any advice along those lines–my apologies. Instead, my recommendations will focus on the more exciting HASS courses: the electives.

As a Chemical Engineering student, my bulletin recommended that I take upper-level HASS electives in my last three semesters. I (mostly) followed that recommendation, taking two each during the Spring of both my junior and senior years (one more than necessary). Overall, I was pretty happy with what I chose to take! Two of the courses I took are widely considered the “fun” courses; HASS 407: Science in Literature and HASS 415: Mass Media Studies. Unfortunately, it appears that Science in Literature is, unfortunately, no longer offered. However, I must say, I really enjoyed these classes. Both were fun, informative, and allowed me to learn interesting things about non-STEM related topics. Mass Media Studies, in particular, provided me with some valuable context for how media operates in the current day and age. Did you know that the news used to be considered a necessary public service? There was even a policy called the Fairness Doctrine that required the news to fairly cover both sides of an issue. The Fairness Doctrine was repealed in the ‘80s in favor of the “entertainment” news that we have today . . . but that’s a topic for another article. I highly recommend taking at least one “fun” HASS course at Mines–it’s nice to be obligated to devote some of your time to something created by society rather than by the laws of physics.

The other two courses I took were to satisfy the more serious student in me, relating to some potential future careers. The first of these courses was a 300-level special topics course called Research, Values, and Communication. It allowed me the opportunity to explore research methods and science communication at a time I was considering getting a PhD. The course featured a term project designed to get students to get a head start in research for their Senior Design project using tools and skills learned in the course. Though I wasn’t able to use my research for my actual Senior Design project, I still use some of the tools they showed me in the course (the source-sorting and citation-generating application Zotero is a gift from the heavens). The other course, HASS 491: Energy Politics, was structured more like a typical course. It covered various topics from oil & gas to nuclear power to renewable energy. It was certainly interesting to learn more about the energy sector from a political perspective, since politics have a huge impact on the state of energy in the U.S. Both of these courses are more niche, but I recommend Research, Values, and Communication to anyone interested in how research ties in with science communication and Energy Politics especially to anyone interested in the politics of the energy industry, especially the politics of renewable energy.

In closing, my advice would be to choose whatever piques your interest! If a course seems like it would provide valuable information for your career, sign up for it! But, at the same time, don’t stifle yourself by insisting that you must take only serious courses–if a course covers something you’ve always been intrigued by, but seems “unproductive”, take it anyway! I encourage you to register for at least one “fun” HASS elective during your time here. You’ll be glad you did.


The most simplistic question to ask oneself before applying to the McBride Honors Program is, “Do I like to read and write (in copious amounts)?” If you pass this first check (or teeter between yes and maybe) then consider its benefits and lesser benefits (which some may perceive as drawbacks). First and foremost, being a McBrider means being a member of a micro-community at Mines. Each and every McBrider’s personality, passion, and perspective weave together to form a diverse and thriving humanities-centric program. Then, there are the professors from Melanie Brandt to Toni Lefton to Justin Latici who have a zealous (if not bordering on devout) commitment to your holistic well-being and development. Further, the program and its curricula are not about cramming content and acing (or otherwise-ing) exams, McBride courses are based on discussion and critical thinking. The goal is to ponder complex issues from an array of perspectives while making obvious and serendipitous connections between topics of conversation and your fellow McBriders. I encourage Orediggers of all walks of life to explore the McBride Honors Program and consider applying during your freshman year for the chance to join Mines’ unofficial liberal arts college. Note: Upperclassmen and transfer students can also apply but should consult with the program director beforehand to figure out the best course of action.

A snapshot of previous course offerings, the following two courses were taught during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years. Other than the first two foundational courses, which every McBrider takes, course offerings evolve from year to year along with the teaching staff. All courses fall within one of four categories: (1) Explorations in Politics, Policy, and Leadership, (2) Explorations in Ideas, Ethics, and Religion, (3) Explorations in Culture, Society, and Creative Arts, (4) Explorations in Science, Technology, and Society.


Course Theme: Environmental Film
Instructor: Shannon Mancus

In short, “This class explore[d] the ways in which films convey competing narratives about the relationship between humans and the environment.” Shannon Mancus, apart from being a wonderful human being, teaches what she preaches. As far as I am aware, she continues to serve as the Hennebach Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities and the interim director for the Hennebach Program at Mines. She devotes her time not only to fosters a healthy learning environment, but to crafting her own papers on the varied approaches with which writers weave environmental narratives into novel, movie, etc. plot. Of her pieces I have had the pleasure of reading, Mother earth tied to the train tracks: The scriptive implications of melodrama in climate change discourse is a gem. A line from the abstract: The essay examines the tropes of melodrama – which include Manichaean dichotomies of good and evil, the implication that suffering is a marker of virtue, and the imperative of a dialectic of pathos and action – in order to analyse their implications for the potential to solve the impending tragedy of devastating climate change. To read the full-paper, students can use their Mines login for or search in the Arthur Lakes Library database.

We watched films ranging from The Lorax to Mother!, read various papers, and wrote reports analyzing literary and cinematic pieces with environment themes. For instance, my final paper entitled Because I’m a wild animal: The Wild and Civilized of Mr. Fox, was a deep delve into the film Fantastic Mr. Fox. Here’s a snippet from the report: Fantastic Mr. Fox delves into the misconceived dichotomy between the “wild” and the “civilized,” prodding viewers to introspect about their own sense of self and the interplay with their fellow animals that results. The animal characters are the other to the human farmers, and universal primitive instincts are the other to the civilized stature of each of the film’s characters.


Course Theme: Thermo Human Dynamics – Heat, Energy, and Time Instructors: Eliza Buhrer and Rachel Morrish

Once again in short, “This course examine[d] the history of thermodynamics, from the discovery of energy conservation and entropy in the mid-nineteenth century, to its impact on 20th century science.” The teaching staff of this course fused the perspectives of a medical science historian and thermodynamics professor to create a unique humanities-esque experience. It’s always an interesting conversation when entropy is discussed in the realms of science, philosophy, and religion or when thermodynamics is observed in science fiction and popular culture. No the spinning top in Inception would not go on forever (that is, unless they are still in a dream).

Each student was assigned a scientist to research and report on in the form of a paper and presentation The topic, “How did history and culture impact the life and discoveries of your scientist?” My scientist of choice, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, the Father of Modern Chemistry, was keenly aware of his times and fell victim to it’s inequities. Here’s a glimpse into his conflicting pursuits: While fascinated by the sciences, Lavoisier was aware of the security intrinsic to inheriting his family’s social status, especially in a society built on hierarchical stratification. Therefore, he pleased his family by first pursuing a stable and respectable profession in law. Meanwhile, he attended to his scientific interests by studying through public and private lectures on chemistry and physics and working under the apprenticeship of leading naturalists.

Sophia Becker

Sophia Becker graduated in 2020 with her B.S. in Chemical Engineering and is currently a Master's student in the Engineering and Technology Management program.

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