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Life in the Spotlight

A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Dr. Keith Lorentzen

Northwest Indiana is place with many draws, from its attractions like the Dunes, a diverse economy, and more. One aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the quality of higher education that the Region provides, thanks to schools like Indiana University Northwest, Calumet College of St. Joseph, Purdue University Northwest, and Valparaiso University, among others. A major part of what keeps these institutions excellent is the untiring efforts of educators past and present, like Keith Lorentzen, Ph.D., and associate professor emeritus at IU Northwest.

Lorentzen, a Utah native, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Utah in 1942. The same day he got his diploma, he also received his military orders and served in the military during World War II. This held up his plans to earn a master’s degree, but he promptly went to graduate school after he came home in 1947 and, with the help of the G.I. Bill, finished and moved on to obtaining his Ph.D. at Penn State. He started working with Standard Oil, which quickly led him to the Region.

“First of all, after getting my Ph.D., I went to Standard Oil here in Indiana,” Lorentzen said. “But they were moving from Whiting over to Naperville, Illinois, and I didn’t want to leave with them so I joined Indiana University Northwest.”

Back when Lorentzen joined as a part-timer, IUN was not really a full university of its own yet. He taught Physics 101 classes in East Chicago at a location that offered classes worth credits toward an IU degree. Later on, a campus in Gary blossomed into the IU Northwest people know today. Once he left Standard Oil in 1963, Lorentzen journeyed to IU Bloomington to interview for a full-time position, before I-65 was completed.

Despite his own extensive education, he had never really envisioned himself being a professor until that trip. It ended up being a snap-decision that changed the course of his career for good, as he spent most of his adult life happily working at IU Northwest, and helping to make it a stronger university.

“Becoming an educator was a spur of the moment thing,” he said. “I liked working with students and helping them get an education. I also liked to see them go on and get a master’s degree.”

Once IU Northwest started distributing its own degrees, Lorentzen did everything he could to improve the experience of students pursuing chemistry degrees. The first thing he did was give money to the IU Foundation, which was used to invite speakers to the university who would present seminars.

“We would invite chemists from other institutions who would give talks for half a semester,” Lorentzen said. “Then, the students who signed up for the seminar would give their own talks.”

Though he admits to being inconvenienced by how his military service disrupted his education, his experience with the benefits of the G.I. Bill afterward made him appreciate the impact scholarships and grants can make on a student’s life. Those thoughts led him to create a scholarship, the Keith Lorentzen Chemistry Scholarship, for outstanding students in the Department of Chemistry.

“There weren’t really any scholarships in my department available for good students,” he said. “It took me a while to get the money to establish it, but eventually I did.”

The funds from his scholarship allow students to complete their education. Lorentzen retired 30 years ago now, but his impact continues to be felt. In 2016, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion by IU Northwest, which is their highest honor.

The former professor currently resides in Munster, where he has lived since 1951.

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