6 September 2022

Teacher of the Year: A living legend, whether in glitter or gladiator garb


He is a living legend in his department – known to occasionally sport a gladiator costume or sequin jacket and electric guitar. Not a speck of dust has settled on this epic lecturer after 38 years of teaching. To the contrary, he sees his philosophy of constant renewal and self development as essential for teaching others. And the SCIENCE Teacher of the Year 2022 award goes to... athletics lecturer Mikkel Sørensen.

Mikkel Sørensen
Mikkel Sørensen, associate professor at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports and Teacher of the Year at SCIENCE 2022 (credit: Emilie Thejll-Madsen)

"What sick mind came up with this?" laughs Mikkel Sørensen self-deprecatingly as he attaches two sparklers onto a glittered crash helmet. The wacky outfit includes a purple sequin jacket, a stars and stripes electric guitar and a Segboard. Fireworks ablaze, he rolls through the sports hall on his segboard while playing the riff to Deep Purple’s rock & roll classic 'Smoke on the Water'. The occasion? Portraits for this year’s Teacher of the Year at SCIENCE 2022 award. And just as in his teaching, award winner Mikkel Sørensen goes all-in and provides generously of himself.   

The remark about the 'sick mind' may confirm that 64-year-old athletics lecturer Mikkel Sørensen knows that he stands out – among lecturers at Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS), where he has been active for 38 years, and arguably across the University of Copenhagen as a whole.

Colleagues and students refer to him as a fireball and legend. Sørensen's CV includes Danish championships in decathlon, long jump and high jump, as well as a sideshow as a semi-professional singer and guitarist. But Mikkel Sørensen’s legendary status probably comes mainly from the fact that he not only dares to make his teaching different, but insists upon doing so.

An inch-thick catalogue of elements has made Sørensen’s instruction ‘different’ over the decades. Some students have heard him spice up a lecture with a 4-minute rap, others have seen him dance in Elvis attire during warm-ups, while others have done stretching exercises to the radio program Giro 413 or practiced javelin throwing to rhythms being beaten on a drum.

Credit: Emilie Thejll-Madsen

Dare to be different

Mikkel Sørensen’s philosophy as an instructor and coach boils down to: "Dare to be different".

"My philosophy is to dare to break boundaries and not be inhibited in one’s expression. If I take the lead as a teacher, go beyond the call of duty and model that it is okay to transcend boundaries, it will be easier for students to act in the same manner. And this is a good point of departure for learning: To be confident in a learning environment, where one is not afraid of failure or being looked down upon, and where you are allowed to be different," says Mikkel Sørensen and adds:

"This desire to include different and crazy elements in my teaching doesn’t spawn from me wanting to promote myself or be a wiseass. It is important that the different and crazy elements are coupled with high professional standards. It can seem frivolous in the absence of relevance and function."

Teaching that impacts emotion

Hitting students’ limbic systems is what matters.

"I’ve read that the limbic system is home to emotions and memory. So, being able to cultivate strong feelings about something helps a person remember things better. If I can do instructional things in lectures that people notice and may be surprised by, I believe that they will stick better in the huge stream of information that students receive. Strong impressions leave big impact," says Mikkel Sørensen.

Feedback from one of his former students suggests that he often succeeds:

Mikkel has some special and unique initiatives and didactic choices that catch you by surprise at times, where you think: "What just happened?" It is this fantastically positive and whimsical approach to athletics, and sport in general, that will always stand out most vividly when I think about Mikkel Sørensen.

Credit: Emilie Thejll-Madsen

During the photo session’s last segboard ride, Sørensen gets a bit squirrely and nearly falls on his back. Immediately, he shouts over to the photographer excitedly, "did you get it?"  Mikkel has been practicing his guitar-playing while segboarding quite a bit lately. Not for the photo session, but for a presentation that he will give to this year's new students. Because things should not be the same every year. Dressed as a gladiator, he entered the hall last year in a chariot pulled by six male students. A few years prior, in a cloud of smoke, he rode in on a motorcycle dressed in a tuxedo.

Eternal renewal and development have been the key to Mikkel Sørensen’s 38 years on the job:

"My mission is to catalyze student development, both practically and theoretically. This requires that I constantly develop myself, so that I have more to pass on. Because I can always improve. It's an advantage for the students, but it also makes the job more fun and rewarding."

Mikkel Sørensen is former Danish champion in long jump, high jump and decathlon (credit: Emilie Thejll-Madsen)

On the right shelf from the start

In the award nomination, another former student is quoted as saying:

No one gives a greater feeling that you are welcome, that you are part of NEXS and that you have ended up in the right place. All new lecturers should attend a few of Mikkel's classes.

Sørensen never doubted that he ended up in the right place:

"Teaching is my purpose. I'm acutely aware of how important it is to live a happy life end up on the right shelf, and I truly feel that this job has allowed me to do so. And, I've always known that. For this, I am very grateful. I am very privileged," concludes the award winner.

Mikkel Sørensen will be presented with the award for Teacher of the Year at SCIENCE 2022 on Thursday, 8 September from 16:00-18:00 at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (Nørre Allé 51, 1st floor - in the Dansesalen/Dance Hall).

Credit: Emilie Thejll-Madsen


  • The award is designed to highlight exceptional instruction, instructional teams and lecturers. All students may nominate a teacher for the award. The winner is selected by representatives from SCIENCE's twenty-four undergraduate programs.

  • The Teacher of the Year at SCIENCE 2022 receives a personal award of DKK 25,000 and DKK 50,000 for the further development of instruction within their team. 

  • Read more about the award: Teacher of the Year at SCIENCE 2022 – University of Copenhagen (ku.dk)


Mikkel Sørensen
Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports
University of Copenhagen
+45 35 32 08 02

Maria Hornbek
Faculty of Science
University of Copenhagen
+45 22 95 42 83


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