Colored portrait of Wilson Sorensen that hangs in the Sorensen Student Center
Wilson W. Sorensen portrait that hangs in the Utah Valley University Wilson Sorensen Student Center

Wilson W. Sorensen was the guiding force behind what is now Utah Valley University.  President Sorensen took the lead when UVU was only a collection of leftover buildings at the Utah County Fairgrounds with a few hundred students learning vocational trades.  Sorensen would bring Utah Valley University through three name changes, three different campus locations, and a shift to academic excellence to accompany vocational training during his 36 years as president.

The obtaining and development of the campus on which UVU currently is located was considered by Sorensen to be his greatest achievement.  He often called it a miracle.  He, in turn, was often called visionary.


Central Utah Vocational School

A young Wilson Sorensen sitting at the desk in his office. Black and white photo.
Wilson W. Sorensen 1941

In 1945, Wilson W. Sorensen was asked to be interim director of the Central Utah Vocational School (CUVS) in Provo, then ratified the next year by the Utah State Board of Education as the permanent director.  Sorensen had been assisting Hyrum E. Johnson, who established vocational education as a mainstay in Utah County.  With federal funding directed to support the war effort ending, one of Sorensen's first goals was to become a state-supported school, with both funding and official recognition form the Utah Legislature.  Funding from the state began in 1945.

Land was purchased in Provo in 1948 to find a permanent location for Central Utah Vocational School and Wilson Sorensen began to draw up a plan for a new, permanent campus location.


Central Utah Vocational School

Portrait of Wilson Sorensen
Wilson W. Sorensen 1960

CUVS was allocated money by the Legislature in 1951 to begin drawing plans for a new Provo campus, allowing them to move from the Utah County Fairgrounds.  Though some buildings were completed earlier and some classes were held on the new campus as space became available, not until 1957 were all of the classes moved to the new location.

The Provo campus housed auto and diesel mechanics, electrical trades, drawing, refrigeration and air conditioning practical nursing and other trade education.  President Sorensen was committed to providing classes to train individuals for the job market, especially in technical areas.


Utah Technical Institute at Provo & Utah Technical College Provo

Portrait of Wilson Sorensen
Wilson W. Sorensen, 1970 Spectrum yearbook photo

New classrooms continued to be a growing part of the new campus of CUVS.  The number of students and faculty increased.  Enrollment under Sorensen's leadership hit 1,900 in the early 1960's, though the campus plan only envisioned 1,200 students.  As the Provo campus became fully utilized, the Utah State Board for Vocational Education changed the school's name to Utah Trade Technical Institute.

With support from the state - and now with four times the planned enrollment bringing stresses on facilities - Sorensen undertook plans late in the decade to expand the campus, first looking at growing at the Provo facilities  and, eventually, other locations.  In 1967, the school was renamed Utah Technical College at Provo.


Utah Technical College Provo

Wilson Sorensen standing outside with another man, who is holding building plans. Wilson is pointing to a spot.
Wilson Sorensen at the campus future site, 1972

The planning for and construction of new buildings at the newly obtained Orem location, as well as increasing enrollment, were a constant under Sorensen's leadership in the 1970's.  Athletics and clubs became a part of the educational experience at the growing school.  In the late 1970's, President Sorensen and UTC-P began the accreditation process to offer associate-level courses and degrees while construction of an exciting new campus at a location in Orem began.


Utah Valley State College

Statue bronze bust of Wilson Soresnsen
A bronze bust of Wilson Sorensen that was given to him when the school named the student center after him. A replica statue is located in The Commons, inside the Sorensen Student Center.

While visiting with the Board of Education to present rough drawings of the Orem Campus (which included a student center) LaVar Rockwood (coordinator of the Orem Campus Project) pulled a member of the Board aside and suggested the student center be named for President Sorensen, a man who had worked his heart out for the institution for over 35 years. As a result, when the plans were approved, the Board also approved a name: the Wilson Sorensen Student Center.


Utah Technical College Provo

Wilson Soresen outside, standing on what is now the Orem Campus for Utah Valley Univsersity.
Wilson W. Sorensen on the Orem Campus in 1982

By the end of his leadership as president in 1982, enrollment at what is now Utah Valley University had increased from 225 students when Sorensen took the helm, to more than 5,500.

With 41 years of exemplary and dedicated service, Wilson W. Sorensen laid the foundation for what would eventually become a community college, a state college, and the largest university by enrollment in the state of Utah - Utah Valley University.


Utah Technical College Provo

Wilson Sorensen standing with J. Marvin Higbee, both are wearing graduation regalia.
Wilson Sorensen and J. Marvin Higbee at Higbee's inauguration as president of Utah Technical College in Provo/Orem.

When President Sorensen retired, Governor Scott M. Matheson declared the week of May 17, 1982 Wilson W. Sorensen Week. President Sorensen stayed connected to the University after his retirement and remained a strong advocate for the value of trades education and keeping a complete and accurate history of the institution.


Utah Technical College Provo


A Miracle in the Desert, book cover.

Published in 1985 this book, authored by President Wilson Sorensen gave a complete history of the first 41 years of the schools history.

Using photographs, official documents and records, news stories, and the personal recollections of many people involved with the school over the years, Mr. Sorensen compiled what has become the comprehensive, go-to source for an introduction to the history of Utah Valley University between 1941 and 1982.


Utah Valley State College

Wilson Sorensen Lifetime Achievement award, made of glass, pointed at the top.
Award design from 2014 is pictured here

Wilson Sorensen is the inaugural recipient of the Wilson W. Sorensen Lifetime Achievement Award, an alumni recognition at the then named Utah Valley State College (UVSC).


Utah Valley University

Wilson Sorensen Society plaque listing the names of all members of the society.
This display is located in The Commons, inside the Sorensen Student Center.


The Wilson W. Sorensen Society is named after Wilson Woodruff Sorensen, who was the president of Utah Technical College from 1946-1982.  He was a strong advocate in providing career options to students by educating them in a trade, as well as in creating a footprint in the community. During his presidency, he was instrumental in expanding the school’s enrollment from 1,000 to over 5,500 students as the school transitioned into Utah Technical College, a state-run institution, and relocated to its current location. The expansion vision Sorensen extolled continued in the hands of others as the college successfully evolved into Utah Valley University, now the largest public school in the state.

UVU continues Sorensen’s aspirations to progress in size and offerings in order to effectively and continuously transition to meet the current economic demands of the community. Much of this success is due to the many generous donations of community members and UVU Alumni.  The UVU Foundation has used donated funds to increase UVU’s endowment, offer scholarships, purchase equipment and resources, and increase learning spaces, to name a few. These funds allow the university to manage the voluminous needs created by the demand of expansion that has been placed on UVU due to expanded enrollment, while continuing to offer its students the quality education it has always been known for.

Members of the Wilson W. Sorensen Society are honored donors who have made a planned gift with the university and are recognized for their generosity during their lifetime. These gifts, once they mature, are used in the manner designated by the donors in the areas of the University about which the donors are passionate. Gifts include charitable reminder trusts, lead trusts, annuity trusts, bequests, IRA rollovers and other gift vehicles.  The Society currently has more than 200 established gifts from people who have generously contributed to the University utilizing one of these philanthropic formats. 


Utah Valley University

Wilson Sorensen pictured here with then President of Utah Valley University, Matthew Holldand.
President Matthew Holland (2009-2018) and Wilson Sorensen (1946-1982)

Wilson Sorensen passes away just before his 93rd birthday.

"The community and UVU family owe much to Wilson Sorensen, who was a pioneer for this institution in the strictest sense of the word," said Matt Holland, current UVU president. "Leaders of his caliber are rare, and we ought to celebrate all that Wilson Sorensen did for UVU and Utah Valley. He will be missed."