Chris Sorensen Receives CASE Award

Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor Christopher Sorensen accepts his award from Lee Shulman, president, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and John Lippincott, president, Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

K-State Physics Teacher, Researcher Chris Sorensen Named a National Professor of the Year by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation


One of Kansas State University's most popular professors isn't necessarily entitled to students' respect.


"They shouldn't just walk in the classroom and because I'm a professor there's immediate respect," said Chris Sorensen, university distinguished professor of physics. "I have to earn their respect, and I have to do it really early in the semester. I need to sell myself to them and let them know that I really want to be there -- and not that I'd rather be in my laboratory."


Sorensen, who has won every major teaching honor awarded by K-State, has been named the national 2007 Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year. The honor is awarded by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.


Sorensen was chosen from among a field of more than 300 distinguished professors.


Throughout his career at K-State, Sorensen has been awarded two William L. Stamey Awards for Excellence in Teaching, two Schenk Physics Teaching Awards, a Commerce Bank Undergraduate Outstanding Teaching Award, a Commerce Bank Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award, a Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and named a Coffman Chair for University Distinguished Teaching Scholars.


"The kids have always liked me, and that's really fulfilling," Sorensen said. "It's nice when somebody says something nice about your teaching.  In research, you can go day after day and nothing is working. Almost daily I can be rewarded from teaching."


Sorensen has been getting positive feedback on his teaching since, as a student himself, he helped his friends with physics.


"I remember my buddies saying, 'Gee, you ought to be a teacher,'" Sorensen said.  "I had never thought of being a teacher.  It was kind of nice to get that compliment."


Chris SorensenAs a college professor, Sorensen has to find a balance between his job as a teacher and his job as a researcher.  He has pursued research in light scattering, optics, aerosols, nanoscale particles, water and aqueous solutions, phase transitions and critical phenomena, and metastable liquids. He has received numerous research grants, published more than 210 professional publications and holds five patents.


"It's important to be a scholar -- to be a real scientist -- when you teach people about scholarship and science," he said.


One of his teaching innovations was overhauling undergraduate physics labs to include lab demos. Sorensen and a team of four undergraduate students developed nearly 130 hands-on, lab-demo activities that were integrated into engineering physics studios in 1999.  Sorensen said he sought to put demonstrations in the hands of the students to integrate hands-on experiences and problem-solving abilities.


Sorensen values teaching physics to all students, whether their interests are in mechanical engineering or music.


"There's this great fear of physics, science in general and mathematical types of things, and that fear is the first thing you've got to overcome," he said.


After that, "The most fundamental aspect of my approach is to respect my students," he said. "They're the future professors, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, the future business people, the future leaders of our country. They all need very much somebody to train them well in their undergraduate days so they can be very effective someday."


Sorensen maintains professional obligations as well.  Currently he is the president of the American Association for Aerosol Research.  He also is a member of many other professional societies, including the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


In spite of these responsibilities, Sorensen said maintaining a passion for teaching is essential.


"Walk into that classroom because you really want to be there," he said.

"Walk in there with a passion for what you're about to teach. Go in there with passion, and the kids will pick up on it. With passion and the mutual respect I've talked about, a grand communication will be made."




Source: Chris Sorensen, 785-532-1626,

An audio interview with Chris Sorensen and a video of a lecture available at News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415,

Photos by Daniel Peck.