By Lauren Offner
Earlier this year, it was announced that the University of Wisconsin–Stout’s longtime chancellor, Charles Sorensen, is retiring. Sorensen served as a loyal ambassador to the university and aided the college through difficult times during our nation’s history. He has also helped bring national recognition to UW–Stout and has pressed the system to further improve the polytechnic education that makes UW–Stout so unique. However, at 73 years old, it’s time to move on.
“I thoroughly have enjoyed my career here,” said Sorensen. “I think that I have changed UW–Stout and it has also changed my life.”
With an initial passion for liberal education and a degree in history, Sorensen’s original plans were to teach. He taught high school for one year, but decided he wanted to experience teaching at a higher level. Sorensen had no premonition that he would become the next chancellor of a university. He described that journey to the position as a winding road.
“There was no direct path that led me to this,” he said. “There was some luck involved in all of that.”
After becoming a dean for a school in Grand Valley, Mich., Sorensen realized he had the skill set for working in administration. Furthering his experience in the field, he realized it was time to leave Grand Valley and seek out vice presidential positions at other universities, such as Winona. He soon came across the position at UW–Stout but was initially apprehensive because of the polytechnic label. However, after reading the description and becoming impressed with the unique mold of the education, Sorensen decided to go for it.
“I told my wife, ‘I think this is a really good fit,’” he said.
Upon his arrival at UW–Stout, there were many things to learn and strive for, but despite the overwhelming desire to begin improving the campus, Sorensen was in awe of the student body.
“When I first came here I was really impressed with the student body,” he said. “They were very focused, very serious and very professional. I was excited about the fact that they knew what they wanted to do.”
With an eager student body and his skill set, Sorensen was able to achieve national recognition for the university despite state and national budget crisis. In 2001, UW–Stout received the Malcom Baldrige Award, an award granted by the President of the United States to education and businesses that display outstanding characteristics in seven areas: leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management and business results.
Earning this achievement was no easy feat for Sorensen, it was one of the most stressful times of his life. With state budget cuts, Sorensen had to lead the university out of a crisis by implementing controversial policies that concerned many of his peers, but because of those policies, the university was able to walk out of a catastrophe with extreme honor and recognition.
“It’s stuck with us,” said Sorensen. “We infuse our structure with Baldrige influence.”
Throughout his career, Sorensen has been able to maintain the “hands on, minds on” slogan for the campus. The university has been able to branch out into the private sector, giving students great opportunities post-graduation. Sorensen hopes his successor will be able to continue this legacy.
“I hope they understand who we are,” he said. “I hope they push us internally and externally to new levels.”
While the campus continues its search for a new chancellor, Sorensen is making no grand plans for retirement but hopes to spend more time with his seven grandchildren and to travel. One thing though is for certain:
“I plan to get out of the winters here,” he laughs. “But I do want to reflect on my career here and write about my experience in higher education.”
It is with collective thought that UW–Stout thanks Chancellor Sorensen for his service to the university. We thank him for his time and commitment to the campus, which has helped ensure students receive a fulfilling education and college experience. Good luck in your next chapter, Chancellor Sorenson!