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The Graduate School has hired John Easterbrook, Ph.D., as its executive director of strategic initiatives — a new role designed to advocate for and support graduate and professional students at Carolina. As a member of The Graduate School’s leadership team, Easterbrook collaborates with faculty and administrators across campus, and he provides expert leadership in strategy and project management to inform new strategic directions for the School.

A headshot of a man wearing a blue button-down shirt
John Easterbrook

As part of The Graduate School’s strategic planning process under Dean Beth Mayer-Davis, Easterbrook will also oversee strategic initiative work as part of the School’s three-year strategic plan, Building on Excellence, which launches in fall 2023. The Graduate School’s three strategic initiatives include:

  • Enrolling for excellence
  • Creating a culture of care
  • Growing with North Carolina

Easterbrook, previously the managing director of the UNC Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), worked alongside Mayer-Davis, the former chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Prior to Carolina, Easterbrook spent three years as an assistant professor with the English Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in early Anglo-American writing from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century.

During his time at the UNC NORC, Easterbrook oversaw the daily administration and operations of the multidisciplinary center with more than 130 members across 39 departments and divisions at the UNC-Chapel Hill. In addition to managing its annual $1.2 million budget to ensure resource allocation in support of strategic priorities, he led the proposal development process for large-scale initiatives such as SPLENDOR-NC and the Nutrition for Precision Health Clinical Center at Carolina — all of which supported UNC-Chapel Hill’s mission to conduct world-class research.

“In all my previous roles, writing and research skills, strategic analysis, and interdisciplinary collaboration were key parts of the work,” Easterbrook said. “That’s part of what appealed to me about this new role at The Graduate School — I clearly saw a way to be part of The Graduate School’s mission, and a way to convene and collaborate with units and schools across the University in support of graduate and professional students.”

As a former graduate student, Easterbrook said The Graduate School’s three strategic initiatives are pragmatic ways to advance the School’s commitment to its students — especially in the context of a rapidly changing workforce and landscape of digital learning in higher education. That work includes supporting a goal from the Office of the Provost to strategically increase graduate student enrollment at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Dean Mayer-Davis is focused on advocacy and strengthening The Graduate School as it strives to support our students and provide the resources they need to thrive,” he said. “It’s exciting to be at The Graduate School at a moment when we’re poised to take on work advocating for our students and convening units and schools around campus as we develop policies and procedures. It’s a truly collaborative effort to build our campus community together.”

Mayer-Davis said Easterbrook’s professional experiences and knack for building relationships with stakeholders around campus will benefit the Carolina community as it begins to implement its strategic plan.

“John is equipped with the skillset — and people skills — we need to grow and advance The Graduate School’s newly revised mission and vision,” she said. “It’s all part of an enhanced infrastructure of support so we can better serve our students.”

The Graduate School’s strategic plan — Building on Excellence — is designed to advance the University’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. The Graduate School supports nearly 7,000 graduate students enrolled across more than 160 graduate degrees at the University.

Since April, Easterbrook has developed relationships with colleagues whom The Graduate School supports and deepened his understanding of graduate and professional student life at Carolina.

“I’m excited to see some measurable impact on the graduate and professional student community,” he said. “The work is different every day; I love being of service to The Graduate School — and our state — more broadly.”

Easterbrook said that the three strategic initiatives — each distinctive from the other — are designed to work in concert to enhance graduate students’ professional and personal lives.

“Graduate students are our knowledge producers,” he said. “They’re key to our state’s workforce and to a thriving campus. We champion and celebrate our graduate students; that’s a message that I’m looking forward to promoting.”

Easterbrook received his B.A. from Manhattan College and both his M.A. and Ph.D. from New York University. He lives in Carrboro with his family and enjoys backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains.

“I’m thrilled to be at The Graduate School,” he said. “We’re well-positioned to build on the excellence of The Graduate School’s 120-year history at Carolina.”

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