Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year
Christopher M. Sorensen
University Distinguished Professor of Physics
Kansas State University
Life's ironies! Here I am, being honored as professor of the year for the entire United States, and the truth is... I hate school! I've always hated school-from that September morning 55 years ago when my mom woke me up early, dressed me in nice clothes, "school clothes", walked me up the hill, and pushed me on the bus as she kissed me good bye (Yech!). Year after year, it was the same boring routine. What drudgery! Instead, I could be outside playing, exploring the backyard or the nearby weed patch, watching the bees and the butterflies, looking under rocks, playing ball with my friends or acting out great adventures. If it was raining, I could be inside drawing pictures, messing around with my chemistry set or reading my dad's books. But no! There I was in school doing what the teacher told me to do.
Well, not really-I daydreamed my way through school. I planned great expeditions with the maps in my history book and skipped ahead in the math book to the really neat stuff at the end. And when released into the library...oh, what endless opportunities! So it was my entire school career-even in high school-when my home projects of building telescopes, radios and various other scientific devices were much more rewarding.
But there were subtle forces at work on me during those times. My teachers were patient, and even understanding, despite the fact that I could be quite a discipline problem. And my father-the man who taught me how to cut a board straight and tune a carburetor, who led me to the works of Shakespeare and Sandberg, Dos Passos and Joyce, and who taught me chemistry-convinced me that the finest thing a man can do is to use his mind for the advancement of knowledge. Under his care, I fell in love with science; under his care, I could see the purpose of school. So I went off to college and found the discipline necessary to achieve.
Reflecting now on the occasion of this truly amazing honor, I can propose why I am here today. I have empathy for my students. They probably hate school, too! Instead of going to school, they'd like to be out playing! When I think of how much I have learned playing, messing around with things or ideas, I realize that the lecture hall, classroom, studio or lab should be a place where students can play. Perhaps the word "play" is imperfect. I could say that in school, they should be invigorated or engaged or even inspired. But whatever the word, the idea is to create a stimulating environment were the learning comes natural and not forced, where the desire to learn is created first. Then, the labor of learning is a labor of love.
Before I sit down (and I'm sure you're looking forward to that!), I want to thank The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for this fantastic award; I am deeply honored. I want to thank the administration of Kansas State University for nominating me; just knowing that they wanted to do that was satisfaction enough for me. Six people wrote letters for me, Eli Gilbertson, Randy Regier, both students at KSU, Lila Bartel of Topeka West High School, Amit Chakrabarti, interim physics department head at KSU, Kim Douglas of the College of Engineering at KSU, and Duane Nellis, provost, KSU; they all must have fantastic letter-writing abilities.
There are a number of other significant people in my life. First, I thank Ms. Ruth Falk, my grade school principal who during my many trips to "the principal's office" was always very kind and understanding. Had she not been, my life would be different. At the University of Nebraska, Professor Robert Katz, my research advisor, taught me a lot about how to do science. Professors Eugene Rudd, also at NU, and John Taylor, at the University of Colorado, both excellent teachers, gave me models of well-constructed lectures. Also at CU, my thesis advisors, Professors Bill O'Sullivan and Dick Mockler, saw me through my thesis work and gave me great freedom in doing so.
I want to mention my wonderful sisters, Dee Verschoor and Debbie Riba, for steadfast sisterly love and humor. I'm blessed with a daughter Hali, who is the light of my life. To my wife Georgia, on this our 32nd wedding anniversary, I say with all my heart-thank you for your love and patience all these years. I'd do it again, babe. Finally, my parents, Nels and Lyla Sorensen, how did I ever get so lucky to have such parents? My mother's unflinching love and my father's inspiration to do the best that I am able are at the foundation of my life.
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