Jasmine Leonas

Designing a better student wellness experience: Thorson First-Year Honors students brainstorm ideas

Students in the Thorson First-Year Honors Experience created design concepts to better support student wellness on campus
students gathered around computers

Amy Cao, part of the team that created the Orediggr roommate-matching app, demonstrates her team's project for attendees of the Thorson First-Year Honors Student Design Showcase.

Good health and less stress make the college experience easier to navigate. But how can Colorado School of Mines best foster a climate that supports student wellness?

Students in the Thorson First-Year Honors Experience tackled this challenge over the course of their first semester at Mines. Teams presented their creative design concepts at the Thorson Design Expo on Nov. 17, sharing their ideas and displaying visualizations of what they could look like in practice.

“When a project is related to a topic a student truly cares about, it can spark ideas,” said Lauren Shumaker, director of the Thorson First-Year Honors Experience. “Their designs can potentially catch the attention of faculty and staff to make changes in how they experience Mines and they’re more engaged and excited about it.”

From a collaborative cafe that fosters student conversations to an app that streamlines the roommate matching experience, teams used out-of-the-box thinking to tackle various aspects of student wellness.

The Thorson teams found inspiration all around them. And as first-year students, some took it as an opportunity to get to know the Mines campus better. One team conceptualized “Blaster Pods,” which are single occupancy areas located around campus to give students a private space away from their roommate to focus on schoolwork. The team used walks around campus as well as feedback from their classmates to design the pods.

“We didn’t want to go on just our own perspective,” team member Miranda Beasley said. “We did surveys to get a scope of what people actually wanted.”

Another team re-envisioned an existing space: the Spruce Hall study rooms. Using principles from biophilic design, team Lush Lounge re-designed the study rooms in a way that brings the outside indoors. Adding a green wall to absorb sound, creating seating with plants incorporated into the design and taking better advantage of the rooms’ large windows, team member Mahika Peterson said they felt more connected to the project because it was about a space they already were spending time in.

“We wanted to target this specific audience in Spruce,” Peterson said. “And it was much easier to envision what we wanted to do because we were working on the project in the actual study rooms.”

One team made up of computer science majors wanted to improve a process they’d very recently gone through: roommate matching. The app Orediggr aims to improve that process, an aspect of the college experience that has a huge impact on student success in their first year. Lamenting the small window of time in which potential roommates need to match up and find someone to live with, they proposed a virtual portal that is more personalized and easier to navigate than the current system. And their app draws on the preferences of their peers.

“Gen Z prefers communicating by text over email,” said team member Amy Cao. “The current system requires you to check your email and the profiles show up with a number, not a name. I was lucky to find a great roommate, but the whole process was stressful to go through while I was preparing to go to Mines.”

Along with building out creative, purpose-driven designs, the Thorson experience also served to give some of the newest Orediggers a chance to kick off their time at Mines in an engaging way.

“This project helps give students a sense of agency as members of the community,” Shumaker said. “They can think about their role at Mines and how they can shape their experience. This is a small campus and by working on their designs, they get another opportunity to get to know people and see how they fit in here.”

The Thorson First-Year Honors Experience is a program for new Mines students that expands their education beyond the classroom. Students take a full-year interdisciplinary course sequence that explores critical thinking, design, communication and ethical problem-solving. They learn to think like an artist, an engineer, a designer, an activist, a poet and a scientist.

The Thorson program also helps prepare students for success in upper-level courses as well as University Honors and Scholars programs. These student-centered, inclusive communities are designed for students to complete their Mines degrees while finding a distinctive pathway that challenges them, helps them grow, builds connections and develops adaptability beyond their technical degrees.

Jasmine Leonas headshot

Jasmine Leonas

Public Information Specialist
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.