Sandy Woodson is a student favorite here at Mines, yet the path she took to become a professor in the LAIS department was far from linear. Anyone who has taken Nature and Human Values has most likely enjoyed a guest lecture from Woodson at some point, but she also teaches upper level classes like Ethics and Environmental Ethics. She has taught at Mines for nearly 14 years, and her dedication to the exceptional students at the Colorado School of Mines is genuine and encouraging.
Born in Cumberland, Maryland, Woodson’s family moved around the country extensively when she was growing up. “There were no hospitals in Shortgap, West Virginia, so my family had to drive to Maryland when I arrived. I lived in Shortgap until I was four. From there we moved to South Carolina, near Charleston,” she said. At age nine, the family ventured to Salt Lake City until Woodson was a junior in high school. “I graduated early, but I finished high school back in South Carolina.” All of this traveling and moving around would allow Woodson to adapt to her colorful and scenic expedition through academia.
She began her undergraduate degree at Clemson. “Because of this, I hate both Duke and University of North Carolina,” Woodson added with a smile. She finished her major in multidisciplinary studies and minor in Science, Technology and Society at North Carolina State University. “It took a while for me to find what I wanted to major in; I started with physics and tried English, elementary education, and business admin,” she said. Woodson was able to obtain a degree, and then wished to move on to post-graduate work.
“When I was deciding what to do for my graduate studies, I chose philosophy because that was the hardest thing I could think of, other than physics.”
Woodson had found her calling, but it was far from an easy journey. She acquired her master’s degree in Philosophy at Colorado State University, and had also attained a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Montana. “The hardest part of my master’s work was procrastination—I took forever on my thesis. Even worse, the longer I took writing, the more perfect it had to be.” After countless hours of hard work, Woodson completed her thesis surrounding Hindu Metaphysics and Environmental Ethics.
At this point, she had been in upper level education for around ten years, and had “worked all the way through school.” “I wanted to do something exciting,” she said. Woodson traveled to Alaska to work in a hardware store. “It turned out I was too old to fully enjoy it, but I didn’t figure that out until I’d been in Alaska for a couple of months. I left Alaska because it was impossibly dark and cold, and I didn’t get to talk about philosophy any more. I was lonely. It was the advice from Bill Kittredge—when I was at the University of Montana—that led me to come to Boulder. ‘What do I do now?’ I asked. He said, ‘Move where your best friend is.’ So I did.”
Woodson enjoyed Colorado while she was getting her master’s, and after she moved, she began to work as a bartender in downtown Denver. Eventually, Woodson stumbled upon a newspaper ad for a job opening at the Colorado School of Mines for a professor for the NHV course. “I hadn’t really heard of the school, but when I told my family about it they were really impressed.”
Like Mines students, Woodson’s workload the first year was eye opening. “I didn’t think I would last a year; I was teaching four sections of NHV, the students were bitter and the entire course had a terrible reputation. It took a long time for NHV to start to emerge from that hole.” Over time, Woodson earned the reputation as the “friendly professor” as she worked to rebuild the NHV course layout and design.
“Students may still complain about NHV, but compared to back then, the class is much, much better,” she said.
Woodson is motivated and driven by the unique interactions with the students at Mines. “It’s great to learn from the students, and it truly is a privilege to be a part of their lives. Mines students do something—they have an impact and the potential to change the world.” Woodson also offered some advice to the frequently overworked and out-stressed students at Mines. She said, “Chill out; you are not your grades. It is great to be ambitious, but if something doesn’t work out, remember it is just a class. The point is to learn as much as you can, and to have some fun on the side.”