A lifetime of learning: 80-year-old Benedictine professor distinguished

Benedictine University in Lisle has more than its share of high-profile instructors who have pioneered research, worked with hundreds of national and international companies, and made positive changes in the world.

Naperville’s Peter Sorensen, Ph.D., who is credited with establishing one of the most distinguished doctoral programs in Organization Development in the world, was recently named a corecipient of the Judith Ann Whinfrey Distinguished Faculty Award for Leadership at the local university.

The Whinfrey award was established to honor the former member of the Board of Directors of Hewitt Associates, chair of the Board of Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, and board member of S&C Electric Company of Chicago. Whinfrey was also a trustee of Benedictine University until she passed away in 2010.

Sorensen, a Naperville resident, has authored more than 300 articles, papers and books, including a number of best paper selections. He has consulted with more than 100 organizations including the U.S. Food and Drug Agency, U.S. Steel, the DuPage County Health Department, Commonwealth Edison, Abbott Laboratories and CNA Insurance.

“Over the decades, Peter has taught more than 10,000 master’s level and doctoral students,” said Donald Taylor, Ph.D., provost and assistant vice president of Academic Affairs at Benedictine. “He is truly an inspirational leader.”

The distinguished professor, who is 80 years old, said he has enjoyed the Organizational Development program for a number of reasons.

“It is a field based on very strong fundamental values and it teaches dignity in the work place,” he said. “We work with high performing organizations. I was influenced years ago to do this by my mentor, Bernie Baum, who has a Ph.D. and was working with me at CNA Financial in Chicago. The other significant influence in my life is my wife who married me 50 years ago and has stayed with me and encouraged me.”

Sorensen said working at Benedictine for decades has given him the opportunity “to work with the greatest people” and that despite his age, he feel no disconnect whatsoever with his students.

“This is one of the greatest universities in the world and it has been a special place for me given the values of Benedictine,” he said. “The school honors diversity and is consistent. It is also one of the most supportive organizations in terms of developing its employees and faculty and we have a wonderful President and Dean.”

Regarding his students, Sorensen describes them as “hungry for knowledge.”

“There is no challenge for me in terms of relating to young people that could be my great-grandchildren,” Sorensen said. “They are bright and articulate and a joy to work with.”

Regarding his award, Sorensen said it is “the highest honor I could receive” and that the recognition came as a complete surprise. John Minogue, acting dean of the College of Business, said he has worked with his colleague for seven years and feel he knows him well and that his organizational program is vital.

“Peter has built a legacy of academic research and astute practitioners in Organizational Development, and he is a man committed to a vision with the entrepreneurial genius to give it flesh and blood in the lives of those who learn with him,” Minogue noted. “There is not an enterprise on the planet that doesn’t need the skills Benedictine’s Organizational Development program develops. Benedictine is both blessed and proud of the program’s global recognition.

“One — if not the most important — thing a business school needs is a national reputation,” Minogue added. “There are some many fine business schools competing for students, but you need a national reputation that sets you apart. These kind of academic reputations can only be built over time with recognized scholarship, and Peter Sorensen has crafted that national reputation.”

Sorensen said “everything is in place” to launch a doctoral program in China with a partner university and that he hopes it will begin soon. He and his wife have moved around and have lived about ten years in Naperville altogether.

The couple is currently living here again and are enjoying “friends and the restaurants and walking along the Riverwalk.” Sorensen also refuted the recent real estate blog Movoto that labeled the city in a derogative way.

“Just being here with the people and the things we get to do is what we enjoy about living in Naperville,” Sorensen said. “People here are nice and they aren’t snobby.”

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