Keeping It Real

Retiring communication professor Sue Easton came from the business world, earned a doctorate as a single, working mom, and brought that hard-earned perspective to the classroom.

In 2014, Easton traveled with a Rollins field study group to Musha, Rwanda. Here, Easton is helping local teachers establish a lesson plan to strengthen language skills. In 2014, Easton traveled with a Rollins field study group to Musha, Rwanda. Here, Easton is helping local teachers establish a lesson plan to strengthen language skills.

Professor of Communication Sue Easton, who is retiring this month, has had the kind of varied career that would have been hard to predict. But it was built on necessity.

She started working as a middle school teacher and loved it. Easton soon realized, however, that she needed to make more money to support her family as a single mom. So she entered the corporate world and went on to work in the aerospace industry as a manager at General Electric in Syracuse, New York. She then was hired as the human resources director at Emerson Electric in Sanford, Florida.

Though busy, she never abandoned education as a personal goal or a professional path to success. While continuing to work, she earned her masters at Syracuse University and a doctorate at Florida State University.

“My life was changed by education,” Easton says. “It opened many doors. I always wanted to give something back.”

Although she owned a successful consulting business, she found herself tiring of business travel and worrying about staying closer to home to deal with aging parents. At that precise moment, a new position at the Hamilton Holt School opened up for teaching organizational communication.

It was exactly her expertise. And the Holt students—mostly older and many working parents—were exactly the type to whom she could immediately relate. She saw people who were striving to improve their futures through education.

“It was perfect timing,” Easton says. “I loved it. Several students became friends after they graduated.”

Anne Stone, assistant professor of communication, is not surprised. “Her students consistently comment that they appreciate that she brings her real-world experiences into the classroom to demonstrate the importance of the material they are learning.

Easton’s influence extended beyond the students. “Sue has been a wonderful colleague,” Stone says. “She really helped me feel at home at Rollins by encouraging me to get involved in initiatives that I am passionate about. She also introduced me to the Florida Communication Association. Sue took students to the Florida Communication Association Conference every year and invited me to join her during my first year at Rollins.”

As department chair, Easton helped lead the development of the communication studies major that grew out of Holt and became available to all undergraduates. She also teaches classes at Crummer Graduate School of Business.  Easton also took several college-sponsored trips, including spending part of last summer in Rwanda with a Rollins group led by Professor of Education Scott Hewitt. “Rollins gives you so many opportunities,” she says.

Indeed, one trip took her to Russia where she met a Russian professor, and they decided to have their classes interact by Skype. That timing was just right, too. The students were Skyping right around the time of the Winter Olympics and had many issues to discuss.

The creative approach was one of the things that professor Rick Bommelje, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, appreciated about her. “With her significant corporate experience and academic background, Dr. Eason’s sought-after courses brought theory to life with meaningful application. She pioneered blended learning at Rollins and was instrumental in bringing the communication studies major to the College. It has been a blessing and a joy to work and learn with Dr. Sue Easton. …[She] is already deeply missed.”

But timing is, indeed, still everything for Easton, and she is looking forward to retirement. “I still love teaching,” she says. “And I loved working with the communication faculty to create our new major. But I’ll be busy.” On her immediate schedule are grandchildren to play with and a humanitarian aid trip to Paraguay this summer to distribute eyeglasses at clinics where people would not otherwise have access to eyewear. And then there’s her consulting business: Easton & Associates is still a going concern.

As a professor at Rollins, Easton has garnered several honors, including the Walter E. Barden Award for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching and an Arthur Vinning Davis award for outstanding teaching and scholarship achievements. As a business consultant, she has worked with several Fortune 500 firms.

One thing she learned about being in the corporate world and continuing to consult with businesses is that nearly every employer lists communication skills as a key to success at their companies. “They want people who can think, speak, and write clearly—somebody who can explain what they’re thinking.”

The corporate reality is, she said, that a liberal arts background can produce great business leaders. “You may not have a perfect job description waiting for you when you graduate,” Easton says. “But you will have a prescription for life.”