A quarter-century of progress

Charles W. Sorensen’s tenure as chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Stout will go down in institution history as a quarter-century of steady, if not extraordinary, progress.

During his 26 years as UW-Stout’s leader, Sorensen directed a myriad transformative changes while strengthening the university’s historic and core missions of applied learning and career training.

Since 1988 when Sorensen arrived on campus, the number of academic program offerings has more than doubled, with key additions in the areas of engineering, science and art; the physical campus has been modernized and increased with 14 new, expanded and renovated buildings; and the university has received national recognition.

Sorensen announced his retirement Monday, Dec. 2, 2013. He began serving Aug. 15, 1988. His last day will be Aug. 15, 2014. 

By announcing his retirement, Sorensen continues a school legacy that began with founder James Huff Stout in 1891. None of the five previous presidents or chancellors in school history has left UW-Stout for another job. The first president, Lorenzo Dow Harvey, died while serving; all others retired. James Huff Stout died while serving on the school’s executive board.

Sorensen will retire as the longest-serving leader in the school’s nearly 125-year history. Prior to Sorensen, the previous record was set by President Burton E. Nelson, 22½ years from 1923-45.

Sorensen will be remembered as a forward-thinking leader who engineered purposeful change infused with innovation, helping transform the special mission UW System school and turn it into one of the leading institutions of its kind in the country.

The changes that occurred under Sorensen’s leadership cover nearly all aspects of university operations. They include:

  • Enrollment: It has risen since 1988 from 7,092 to 9,286, an increase of 31 percent.
  • Academics: The number of undergraduate majors has risen since 1988 from 20 to 44 and the number of graduate majors from 18 to 23, plus three advanced graduate programs.
  • Recognition: UW-Stout won the national Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001. In 2007 it was designated as Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.
  • Physical campus: Since 1988 there have been five new buildings, two major additions and seven major renovations.
  • Innovation: The eStout laptop program was implemented in 2002. It provides laptop computers to all undergraduates and is the foundation for a campuswide digital learning environment.
  • Employment success: Maintained the employment rate for new graduates at or above 97 percent, even through the worst recession since the Great Depression.
  • Outreach: UW-Stout opened the Stout Technology and Business Park, Discovery Center, Center for Applied Ethics and expanded the Cooperative Education Program.
  • Budget: The university’s annual budget has grown since 1988 from $66 million to $228 million.
  • Advancement: Stout University Foundation assets have grown since 1988 from $2.3 million to more than $43 million.

Sorensen was born Jan. 21, 1941, in Audubon, Iowa. He grew up in Moline, Ill. After attending Black Hawk Community College, he graduated in 1964 from Augustana College, in Rock Island, Ill., with a bachelor’s degree in in history and political science.

He then earned a master’s degree in history in 1967 from Illinois State and a doctorate in American history in 1973 from Michigan State University.

He began teaching in 1970 at Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich. He eventually was named history department chair, assistant dean and dean. In 1981 he attended Harvard University Institute for Educational Management.

In 1984 Sorensen was named vice president for Academic Affairs at Winona State University in Winona, Minn. While at Winona State, Sorensen pushed for the addition of an engineering degree program.

At UW-Stout, where he was inaugurated May 6, 1989, he also pushed for an engineering degree program, which was coupled with a capital campaign and renovation of Fryklund Hall. After approval from the UW System, the manufacturing engineering program, the first in Wisconsin, was launched in 1994.

Prior to Sorensen, the three previous UW-Stout leaders were alumni, dating back 43 years to 1945.

Administratively, Sorensen initiated a new campus governance process in May 1996, the Chancellor’s Advisory Council, which includes representatives from all campus constituencies.

The change was in direct response to severe criticism Sorensen faced that spring about his leadership, leading to a vote of no-confidence by the Faculty Senate. Faculty were especially upset that Sorensen had not vetted a proposal to seek charter school status, meaning UW-Stout would be independent of the UW System and have its own board while still receiving state support.

Also in response to the vote of no confidence, Sorensen created the Office of Budget, Planning and Analysis in 1996 to help provide objective data for campus initiatives and handle capital planning, institutional research and the budget.

As a result of the no-confidence crisis, Sorensen’s decision to delegate power helped UW-Stout emerge as a stronger institution. “We now have systems of leadership distributed among all campus groups. Formal team building is a key component to our leadership system. I relinquished power to gain authority, respect and influence,” he said.

The no-confidence crisis and resulting changes in 1996 led UW-Stout to begin assessing itself using national continuous quality improvement standards, leading to the 2001 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Following are summaries of changes and developments at UW-Stout while Charles W. Sorensen has been chancellor:


Throughout his nearly 26 years on campus, Sorensen worked fastidiously at expanding UW-Stout’s academic program array. With 24 new undergraduate and seven new graduate programs, an average of more than one a year was approved.

In addition, many majors that existed before Sorensen arrived have been redefined and renamed.

The new programs haven’t been growth for growth’s sake build on the school’s historic applied learning mission and meet the changing needs of society.

Early in his chancellorship, Sorensen pushed for and received from the UW System permission to branch into engineering at UW-Stout. UW-Stout added manufacturing engineering in 1994, plastics engineering in 2008 and computer engineering in 2008. In October 2013, Sorensen announced that UW-Stout hopes to add chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering programs in the near future.

Another major focus of Sorensen’s has been to expand the sciences at UW-Stout. New science programs include applied science, which has a preprofessional track that prepares students for medical and other professional pursuits; cognitive science; science education; and technology and science education.

A third academic focus has been the arts, with new majors in game design and development; entertainment design; graphic design and interactive media; and interior design.

Other new programs include construction, packaging, golf enterprise management, special education and supply chain management.

UW-Stout added the first terminal degrees in school history in 2012 and 2013, the Master of Fine Arts in Design and a doctorate in career and  technical education, respectively.

The School of Art and Design and School of Hospitality Leadership were created to raise the profiles of those academic disciplines. Also created were the Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center and Honors College.

The Weidner Center for Residential Property Management was established in 2013 thanks to a $1 million donation from Dean Weidner, founder of Weidner Apartment Homes of Kirkland, Wash.

The Army ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and military science department were added to campus in 2005.

National, state recognition

UW-Stout received national recognition for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. It was the first and still is the only four-year institution to be honored in the history of the award, the nation’s premier honor for quality excellence.

The U.S. Department of Commerce award was announced Dec. 4, 2001, and was presented March 7, 2002, by President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.

UW-Stout began using Baldrige criteria in 1999 to measure its effectiveness in seven key areas, including leadership, strategic planning and organizational performance.

Since 2001 UW-Stout has worked with educational institutions in 39 states and 25 countries, sharing information and assisting schools that are interested in quality improvement through the application of the Baldrige criteria.

In March 2007 UW-Stout was granted polytechnic status by the UW System Board of Regents. Since then, UW-Stout has been known as Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University to brand the school’s applied learning approach,  its focus on career training and its outreach to business and industry.

The university’s job employment and continuing education rate among graduates out of school for one year has consistently remained at or above 97 percent, with a survey response rate close to 90 percent. Also, three-fourths or more of those working typically have jobs related to their degree.

UW-Stout ranks in the top 15 among public regional universities in the Midwest, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In 2010 UW-Stout became the first UW System school and first four-year school in Wisconsin to enact a campuswide tobacco-free policy.

Physical campus

It’s nearly 125 years old, but UW-Stout’s campus doesn’t show its age thanks to a consistent effort to erect new buildings, renovate existing ones and update landscaping and signage.

New buildings since 1988 are North Point Dining and Fitness (2010), the suite-style Red Cedar residence hall (2005), Millennium Hall technology building(2001), 4,500-seat Don and Nona Williams Stadium (2001)  and Micheels Hall (1996), a classroom building between Applied Arts and Jarvis Tech Wing.

An addition to Jarvis Hall Science Wing, one of the school’s biggest projects ever at $43.2 million, opened in fall 2010. It included 160,000 square feet of new and renovated space, giving UW-Stout one of the state’s most modern science education facilities.

Major additions to Johnson Fieldhouse opened in 1989 and 2001, the latter adding 17,800 square feet.

Also, seven major renovation projects have taken place since 1988, Fryklund Hall, Harvey Hall Theatre, Memorial Student Center, Merle M. Price Commons, Jarvis Hall Tech Wing, Fleming Hall and Hovlid Hall. Other renovation has occurred at Bowman Hall, Louis Smith Tainter House and other residence halls.

Approved for renovation are historic Harvey Hall, the university’s largest classroom building, in 2014-15 and the McCalmont residence hall in 2014.

Separate from the renovation projects, hundreds of classrooms and labs have been modernized with new furnishings and equipment.

The central campus mall was upgraded in 1996 as part of the city’s and university’s Second Street Historic Corridor project.

A pedestrian bridge spanning Broadway Street was built in 1992 to improve safety and connect residence halls on north campus.

Bells returned to Bowman Hall Clock Tower in 1996. The building’s original bell broke in 1941 and was replaced with mechanical and electric carillons for 55 years. The cracked bell was removed in 1996 and replaced with five new bells, which ring every quarter-hour and on special occasions. The original 1897 bell is the centerpiece of a bell monument south of the Memorial Student Center.

Ray Hall, previously known at the Trades Building, was torn down in 1996, making way in part for the new Millennium Hall. Ray Hall was immediately south of Bowman Hall. The Communication Center Building, a former city elementary school next to Ray Hall, was torn down in 2001.


Since 2002 UW-Stout has been providing undergraduate students with personal laptop computers as part of their tuition and fees. The program creates a standardized digital learning environment for students and faculty by ensuring that students and faculty have a standard set of tools — hardware and software  — that meet a majority of their wireless computing needs, thus producing a wireless laptop campus environment.

The laptop is included in undergraduate student tuition. Students receive a new computer after two years and keep their laptop after graduation. Computers come with accessories, software, wireless connectivity on campus, service, support and training.

UW-Stout also embraced new technology in the area of instruction. After the Internet expanded globally, UW-Stout in 1996 began offering online and distance education classes. Today, the university is one of the UW System leaders in Web-based education with students from 46 states and 36 countries.

The university offers more than 700 courses online for students either on or off campus. The number of online courses at UW-Stout has nearly tripled since 2008.

University advancement

With a steady decline in state funding as a percentage of the university budget, UW-Stout like other universities has increasingly relied on donor gifts to help fund scholarships and other campus priorities.

The assets of Stout University Foundation, based in the Louis Smith Tainter House on north campus, have risen from $2.3 million in 1988 to more than $43 million. During that time the university has received several major gifts of $1 million or more.

Scholarships awarded by the foundation have risen in value from $107,000 in 1988 to more than $600,000 in fall 2013.

The foundation was founded in 1962.


The Stout Technology and Business Park, on Menomonie’s east side, opened in 1990. Since then the park had grown to employ 1,150 people in 63 companies with about $50 million in payroll and an estimated $232 million economic impact.

The park was founded by UW-Stout, the city of Menomonie and Xcel Energy after the Stout University Foundation provided 113 acres for initial development.

Rather than sell the land, Sorensen endorsed a plan that would benefit the university and community. UW-Stout remains one of the three managing partners and provides support services, and the park has grown to more than 400 acres.

Early discussions about the park were initiated under former Chancellor Robert S. Swanson and moved forward under Sorensen.

The Discovery Center, which opened in 2009 with funding from a major private donation, uses faculty, staff and student expertise to help business and industry solve problems and create jobs and economic growth.

The center has facilitated dozens of collaborative projects involving more than 1,000 students and faculty. The projects have helped create and save more than 1,200 jobs and resulted in $19 million in investment, $70 million in new or retained sales and $16 million in savings.

In 2013 the Discovery Center opened a Fab Lab, or digital fabrication laboratory. Founded in 2002 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fab labs are a global network of facilities that provide tools, software and expertise to help users invent and make almost anything.

The Cooperative Education Program has grown since 1988 from 448 students to 927. The program integrates career-related work experience with academic course work, providing students an applied learning opportunity in their professional field. The university’s Career Services Office works with 550 employers nationwide each year.

The Center for Applied Ethics at UW-Stout was founded in 2008 as a result of an anonymous donation. It promotes ethics in the curriculum, professional development related to ethics and outreach activities that provide all UW-Stout graduates with a substantive ethics experience. The center also promotes ethical discussion and conduct in the university, community and region.

Sorensen has personally helped university outreach efforts. He served on the Special Committee on the University and State Economic Development; served on the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on 21st Century Jobs; received the Governor's Diamond Award for innovative programs offered to women and minorities; received a UW System Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and Policy Studies award for advancing the status of women in higher education; and was named the 2005 Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.