Scholarship provides Scandinavian study opportunities


Holdrege native Marjorie Mattson Sorensen wants to help students have a better understanding of different cultures and has established the Robert C. Sorensen and Marjorie Mattson Sorensen Scandinavian Scholarship for students at UNL.

The $300,000 gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation creates a permanently endowed fund that will provide up to three scholarship awards a year to cover half the costs for students to study abroad for a semester in a Scandinavian country, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway or Sweden.

The gift supports the Campaign for Nebraska, the university's comprehensive fundraising effort, and its highest priorities of increasing scholarship support for students, including support for study abroad opportunities.

Ellen Weissinger, interim senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNL, said the scholarship will enable students to experience different cultures, gain understanding of the world and develop skills required to work in the global economy.

"We're very grateful for the generosity of Marjorie Sorensen to help many generations of students have a meaningful study abroad experience," Weissinger said. "Students who study abroad often have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, higher graduation rates and improved knowledge of cultural practices."

Marjorie Sorensen created the scholarship to honor her own family's Scandinavian heritage while remembering her late husband, Robert C. Sorensen, a social psychologist and expert in public opinion research applied to legal disputes involving trademarks, who was born in Lincoln in 1923.

"It's a wonderful thing to learn about your own country by living in another country," Marjorie Sorensen said. "You will appreciate your own country more once you have lived somewhere else, regardless of where you come from. Many Nebraskans, as in the case of our family, are descendents of immigrants who came to America from Scandinavian countries. What better place for students to learn about a different way of doing things and reflect on the United States than in the countries of their ancestors?"

Each year, up to three students will be able to spend a semester studying, exploring and making friends in a Scandinavian country. Marjorie Sorensen said she and her family are hopeful students will return from their semester abroad with educational experiences and memories they will carry with them for a lifetime -- an education that will serve both their personal and professional lives.

Robert C. Sorensen and Marjorie J. Mattson Sorensen met while attending the University of Nebraska in the 1940s. Robert Sorensen later graduated from the University of Chicago where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. He returned during his graduate work to the University of Nebraska where he taught in the College of Law. The Sorensens were married in 1943.

Robert and Marjorie Sorensen spent most of their lives in New York City. Earlier, while living in Chicago, they volunteered with the Americans for Democratic Action, where they worked on political, economic and social issues. Dr. Sorensen was the founding head of an office of research and audience analysis for Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany, from 1953 to 1958.

In New York, he worked in the field of marketing research and founded his own firm, Robert C. Sorensen and Associates, in the area of public opinion and trademark law. Among many other volunteer activities, he became a board member for the Scandinavian Seminar, an organization promoting international educational exchange, and Marjorie and Robert worked with the consulates of Sweden and Denmark as unofficial diplomats and met the royalty of both countries when these distinguished guests were in the United States.

Marjorie Sorensen was born on a farm outside of Holdrege in 1921 to Arthur C. and Lulu E. Johnson Mattson. Her mother became a teacher and attended education courses at the university, and her father attended agricultural business courses there. Marjorie attended the University of Nebraska before earning a degree at Northwestern University. She lives in New York City and will celebrate her 89th birthday Aug. 22.

Robert Sorensen was born and raised in Lincoln, and his parents and siblings each graduated from the University of Nebraska. His father, Christian Abraham Sorensen, who graduated with a law degree, served as Nebraska attorney general. His mother, Annis Chaikin Sorensen, received a bachelor's and master's degree at the university.

Robert Sorensen's brother, Theodore C. Sorensen, who received bachelor's and law degrees at Nebraska, was an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and is also a supporter of the university. Their brother, Thomas C. Sorensen, and sister, Ruth Sorensen Singer, received bachelor's degrees at the university. Brother Philip C. Sorensen, who received bachelor's and law degrees, served as lieutenant governor of Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for 74 years. In 2009, the foundation provided the university with more than $102 million in private funding for scholarships, medical research and support for faculty and academic programs. In October 2009, the foundation announced Unlimited Possibilities: the Campaign for Nebraska, a $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign -- the largest in the university's history. For more information, visit

-- Robb Crouch, NU Foundation

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