‘UNK and I have grown up together’: Kaye Sorensen started and ended her educational journey as a Loper

Kaye Sorensen recently retired from UNK after a nearly 30-year teaching career in the Department of Math and Statistics. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
Kaye Sorensen recently retired from UNK after a nearly 30-year teaching career in the Department of Math and Statistics. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Kaye Sorensen is a proud first-generation Loper.

She came to the University of Nebraska at Kearney as an undergraduate student and loved the community so much that she never left.

“It’s a great place to kind of find yourself, raise a family and pursue whatever you want to pursue,” Sorensen said. “I didn’t ever feel the need to move elsewhere.”

The Wakefield native met her husband Gary at UNK, where she graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in math and a minor in business accounting. That led to finance and managerial positions with the local county court, a credit union and medical clinic before she was encouraged to return to campus to pursue a master’s degree and begin what turned into a nearly 30-year teaching career.

“I really believe that education is a pathway to achieve whatever you want to achieve,” Sorensen said. “I never lost my excitement for contributing to that process.”

Sorensen started as a graduate assistant and was hired in 1990 as a lecturer in the Department of Math and Statistics. When her husband decided to launch his own general contracting company, she helped get that business off the ground while continuing to teach part time. She returned to a full-time lecturer position in 2005 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2009.

A self-described “people person,” Sorensen taught a variety of undergraduate courses over the years, including college algebra, applied calculus, trigonometry, finite mathematics, math concepts and introductory statistics. Her students came from departments across campus, because “math is everywhere.”

“It’s a language that’s used in many fields,” she said. “It’s the basis of STEM and it’s a language that’s built upon in applied fields and theoretical research. You come up with a situation, and you can see how math played a part in it. It’s something I was excited to tell the students about.”

As a teacher, she was particularly proud of those students who overcame early obstacles to excel in this area.

“I was there once, coming from four hours away and being the first in my family to go to college,” Sorensen said. “These students are capable and worthy. They just need to know and believe it.”

When Sorensen enrolled in a doctoral program through the University of South Dakota, her research focused on ways to use technology to improve student success in college-level math courses. She continued that work with UNK colleagues Amy Nebesniak and Keri Treadway by studying strategies to encourage growth mindsets in STEM classrooms.

In fall 2021, she began developing the College of Arts and Sciences math specialist program, which offers supplemental instruction to undergraduate students who are struggling in math or statistics courses. Sorensen worked one-on-one with students on a weekly basis, helped them develop a success plan and partnered with campus resources such as the Learning Commons to provide additional academic support. She also served as a faculty consultant for the Learning Commons and was part of study abroad trips that took students to Costa Rica, Cuba, Greece, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

“I feel my greatest accomplishment at the university may be that I created a forum to embolden more students to succeed not only in their academic undertakings here but also in future pursuits that may be yet unknown to them,” she said.

Sorensen recently retired, giving her more time for travel and family. She has three children, Bre, Matt and Drew, and three grandchildren who all live locally. She also plans to volunteer at local schools and the library.

Of course, she’ll always be a proud UNK supporter, too.

“I’ll still be invested because this is my educational home,” Sorensen said. “This is where I started and ended my learning and teaching careers. UNK and I have grown up together in a way and that bond will continue.”