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Dean Ken Eastman

Impactful Leader: Dean Eastman to retire after 34 years, leaving a lasting legacy

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

When Dr. Ken Eastman has felt the need to get away from the barrage of meetings, the onslaught of emails and the numerous other obligations that have occupied his time over the past 10 years, he’s found solace in his haven — where just he, his cats, Babbs and Bruno, and his puzzles are allowed. This room in his Stillwater home with his felines and his puzzles is one of the reasons he is the third-longest tenured dean in the history of the Oklahoma State University business school.

A devoted puzzler, Eastman often retreated to his puzzle room when he needed to decompress after an especially taxing day leading the more than 5,000 students, nearly 150 faculty and 115 staff members at the Spears School of Business.

“Being a dean is similar in a lot of ways to putting together a puzzle,” said the 64-year-old Eastman, who will retire this summer after 34 years at OSU and Spears Business, serving as dean since 2014.

“As part of being dean, there are times you have to do the behind-the-scenes things, not glamorous stuff, such as gathering data and putting things together before you can start seeing patterns, just like when putting together a puzzle.

Dean Ken Eastman

“I think as dean, sometimes you plan to go one way, but it makes sense to go another direction instead. I think it makes you adjust. Sometimes when working on a puzzle, you get stuck, so you decide to leave that section and move to another section. Then, almost always, the original section starts to become clearer. As dean, I think you must do that at times, too. It’s OK to call a timeout sometime when you’re working on something, give it a rest and come back to it.”

The pieces of the puzzle that have come together at Spears Business under Eastman’s leadership are impressive. The crowning achievement was seeing the new Business Building come to fruition after he’d been hearing about it since nearly the day he arrived at OSU in 1989. Opened in 2018, the $72 million crescent-shaped structure changed the game for OSU’s business school.

“The building was the catalyst to getting people to think differently about what we could be,” Eastman said of the 147,450-square-foot facility that houses 13 classrooms, four labs, 150 offices, 12 team rooms, 11 conference rooms and the latest tech features. “My mantra when we were building it was, ‘We cannot take our old self into a new building.’ Otherwise, we just wasted about $70 million.

“The building allowed us to begin thinking about new things, thinking about possibilities, and not looking at the negatives. I am most proud that Spears Business is now imbued with that sense that we can do a lot. We’ve done a lot, but we can do much more, and we’re not going to stop.”

In the past 10 years, Spears Business revised its undergraduate core curriculum to better respond to the changing dynamics of the business world, and in the process, set up its students for long-term success. The curriculum changes were a response to requests from recruiters for a heavy emphasis on interpersonal and career-readiness skills, better technology skills, more applied accounting and finance skills, as well as problem-solving rather than memorization. New developments continue as there is work in progress to expand coverage of data analytics in the core.

In addition, several centers were added to enhance the student experience:

  • The Center for Advanced Global Leadership and Engagement (CAGLE), which offers once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experiences while also coordinating all global activities
  • The Eastin Center for Career Readiness, which guides and supports students as they pursue their professional aspirations
  • The Center for Sales and Service Excellence, which instills valuable sales, leadership and customer retention skills
  • The Center for Health Systems Innovation, which leverages the power of Spears Business and the OSU Center for Health Sciences to focus on business and clinical advancements
  • The Center for Financial Health and Wellness, which works to raise the level of financial literacy for the OSU community

Other achievements include creating a track system for tenured and tenure track faculty, overseeing the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s move to Spears Business and the creation of a senior inclusion officer position to work with academic units and faculty to help ensure inclusive hiring practices and workplace culture.

“Ken and I have worked together these past 32-plus years and watched the business school develop our own unique, impactful way of delivering the land-grant mission,” said Dr. Rick Wilson, head of the Department of Management Science and Information Systems who joined the OSU business faculty in 1990, a year after Eastman.

“Ken’s leadership as dean allowed us to truly capitalize on our ‘Power of Personal’ approach, forever altering the Spears school’s trajectory. Our future accomplishments will be possible and built on top of Ken’s strong legacy.

“Ken’s success and popularity with so many is due to his genuineness. He truly enjoys working with people and his internal compass is set to make a difference in the lives of others. He practices ‘listen if you want to be heard’ better than any leader I’ve known. And he is still the same humble, caring, friendly and compassionate person he was when I first met him in graduate school. Success has not changed him, and we all appreciate what he has done for all of us in the Spears Business family.”

Eastman was hired at OSU upon graduating with his doctorate in organizational behavior from the University of Nebraska and moved to Stillwater in 1989, not expecting to stay for more than five years. But the closest he came to leaving was in the late 1990s when he was passed over after being one of two finalists for a department head position at Kansas State University.

“That’s the only interview I have had,” said Eastman, who served as OSU’s MBA director and head of the Department of Management prior to Hargis.

Now, after 34 years at OSU and in Stillwater, he says the time is right.

“I told Burns when I took the job, I’d only do it for 10 years,” he said. “I believe very strongly that every 10 years you need to turn it over, and I think it’s time to turn it over to someone else. I do understand people’s concerns about what’s next and what will change, but I believe the next step will be even better.”

Eastman and his wife, Laurie, will return to their home state of Iowa upon retiring. His days of overseeing hundreds of faculty and staff may be coming to an end, but he’s looking forward to spending more time with Babbs and Bruno, and putting together puzzles.

“Do you know what the biggest difference is between putting together puzzles and being the dean? I don’t like to put puzzles together with anyone else. But being dean, I love working with everybody else,” Eastman said. “My wife knows not to interfere with my puzzles. It’s just me and the cats putting the puzzle together. But with being dean, it is the direct opposite. It’s been so helpful to work with so many different people — students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors — and get people involved.

“That’s the big difference, and that’s what I’ll miss most.”


Dr. Ken and Laurie Eastman
Dr. Ken and Laurie Eastman

To honor Dr. Ken Eastman and create a legacy in his name, alumni Michael and Anne Greenwood have established the Ken and Laurie Eastman Spears School of Business Endowed Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which will award needs-based scholarships to students throughout Spears Business.

The Greenwoods will match up to $250,000 in fund donations received through July 30, which marks the end of Dean Eastman’s tenure at Oklahoma State University.

“One of the nice parts of this job is getting to know Mike and Anne personally, and I consider them both friends now,” Eastman said. “And to have friends create a scholarship for us, it stunned me. It was deeply touching, and we are very humbled by their generosity.

“As a first-gen college student, I am excited that future students with needs will have the opportunity to attend Spears Business. Working with students has been one of the most rewarding parts of being dean, and we are honored by this scholarship.”

The Greenwoods have worked with the Eastmans for many years, serving the school as donors, advisory committee members, student mentors and lecturers. They wanted to find a way to thank both of the Eastmans for their work in increasing the prominence of Spears Business during his decade as dean.

“During his tenure, Dean Ken Eastman revolutionized the Spears curriculum and programs that have now made our graduates more competitive and relevant in today’s business world,” the Greenwoods said. “With this endowed scholarship, we not only honor Ken and Laurie but enable their legacy to continue to fill the halls of the Spears School of Business forever.”

Finding ways to enhance the student experience was always a priority for Eastman. He was at the forefront of multiple changes that better prepare Spears Business students for long-term success. This includes revising undergraduate core curriculum, integrating the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management into Spears, and creating multiple centers focused on leadership and career-readiness.

His crowning achievement was the grand opening of a new, state-of-the-art Business Building. The $72-million, 147,450-square-foot facility opened in 2018, a groundbreaking milestone for Spears Business.

Donations to the Ken and Laurie Eastman Spears School of Business Endowed Opportunity Scholarship Fund can be made at

Photos By: Gary Lawson 

Story By: Terry Tush | STATE Magazine

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