About the Sorensen Institute

Trust, Civility and Respect

uva archwayThomas Jefferson wrote, Come forward then and give us the aid of your talents and the weight of your character towards the new establishment of [democracy]. The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia is proud to work in this Jeffersonian tradition. Sorensen was founded in 1993 to bring together diverse individuals with a passion for politics and public service. All have a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds but want to work together for the common good. Our non-partisan mission is to strengthen and enhance the quality of government at all levels throughout Virginia.

Through a variety of programs—for high school and college leaders to first-time political candidates and influential business and community leaders—the Sorensen Institute has established itself as a powerful and effective force for restoring public confidence in our political system. Former Governor Mark Warner has commented that, "This organization is incredibly important. Sorensen has become the model of successful bipartisan leadership training for the nation."

At the heart of every Sorensen program are three central themes: ethics in public service, the power of bipartisanship, and a concentrated study of public policy issues.

The Sorensen Institute has approximately 1,500 graduates of its various programs. Currently 22 program alumni serve in the Virginia General Assembly—four in the Senate and 18 in the House. Additionally, in 2010, two Sorensen Alumni were elected to the United States House of Representatives. Hundreds of graduates of Sorensen’s programs hold positions in local government: as mayors, council members, supervisors and other elected positions all over the Commonwealth. Other alumni are serving in critical positions of leadership in nonprofits, local governments or in the private sector. Click here to learn more about graduates of the Sorensen Institute.

In 2007 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized the Sorensen Institute's College and High School Leaders Programs as among the very best in the nation and a national model when it comes to giving young people the skills and motivation to become politically engaged in their communities.

WHTJ-PBS has produced a documentary about the Sorensen Institute's flagship Political Leaders Program. A film crew followed the Class of 2007 throughout the year and chronicled the experience of its members. The documentary enjoyed its television broadcast premiere in May 2008. Click here to watch an excerpt.


The Sorensen Institute was founded by Charlottesville businessmen Leigh Middleditch and Michael Bills as the Virginia Institute of Political Leadership in 1993. The first class of Political Leaders graduated in the spring of the following year and included future State Senator Emily Couric. The organization took the name of generous benefactor Thomas C. Sorensen in 1997 shortly before he passed away. Click here to learn more about Tom Sorensen and the history of the Sorensen Institute.


The Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership seeks to improve political leadership in Virginia, thereby strengthening the quality of governance at all levels of government.


The Institute prepares the Commonwealth’s emerging leaders for public service as candidates for office, government officials and citizen activists in the affairs of their communities, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the nation. This is accomplished through educational programs designed around ethics, public policy, and practical politics.


The Sorensen Institute was founded on a core set of principles which inform its mission at all times. The Sorensen Institute:

  • is nondiscriminatory and nonpartisan.
  • does not participate in any manner in political campaigns and does not take positions for or against issues, causes or proposals.
  • does not endorse, support or oppose any candidate for office.
  • does not mediate disputes between or among candidates or political parties.
  • does not review, express an opinion, or take a position with respect to the propriety of campaign literature or campaign material; and the use of the Sorensen name in campaign literature or material does not imply that the candidate, the literature, or the material has been endorsed, approved, or disapproved by the Institute.

Strategic Plan

In 2008 the State Advisory Board created a Strategic Planning Committee to explore the future direction of the Sorensen Institute. Chaired by long-time supporter and board member Fred Scott, the results of the Committee's initial recommendations were first reported to alumni and supporters in January 2009.

Click here to read an updated draft of the Sorensen Institute's Strategic Plan.


Though it is housed at the University of Virginia as part of the Cooper Center for Public Service, the Sorensen Institute relies on donations and grants from individuals, corporations, and foundations to fund its programs. Please consider investing in the mission of the Sorensen Institute. Click here to learn more.


You can learn more about the Sorensen Institute by downloading one of our brochures. The first publication spotlights the Political Leaders and Candidate Training Programs. The next brochure focuses on our youth leadership programs.  The third offers a brief overview of all Sorensen programs and the Sorensen Gala. Each brochure will open as a PDF file.




Contact Us

Phone   (434) 982-4943
       (434) 982-5536
Email    sorensen@virginia.edu

Mailing Address

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership
P.O. Box 400206
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4206

Directions and Map

Our offices are located at 2400 Old Ivy Road in Charlottesville.

Privacy Statement

Click here to read our complete privacy statement.

Questions, Comments or Suggestions?

We encourage our alumni and friends, or anyone seeking more information about the Sorensen Institute, to contact Executive Director Bob Gibson. We are especially eager for any suggestions from our graduates as to how Sorensen might improve and strengthen its programs. Bob can be reached at his office in Charlottesville by phone at (434) 982-4998 or by email bob.gibson@virginia.edu. Thank you in advance for your input.


Featured Alumni

  • Alfonso Lopez.jpg

    Alfonso Lopez

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2003

    Alfonso was the Director of the Virginia Liaison Office during the Kaine administration. In 2011 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in the 49th District. He also serves on the Sorensen Institute's Northern Virginia Regional Board.