Get to Know Dr. Leanna Lawter – Business Department Chair

We talked with Dr. Leanna Lawter, Associate Professor and Chair of the Business Department to get to know her and her role at Wheaton better. We talked about changing careers, making an impact on the Business Department, and the department’s future. 

For some context, Dr. Lawter joined the Wheaton Business Department in August 2019. She was drawn to the strong focus on undergraduate education at Wheaton. Under her leadership, the business major has grown to be one of the largest on campus. When I asked why she thought the major was attractive to students, Dr. Lawter credits the uniqueness of the business department here at Wheaton. 

She says, “we encourage cross discipline investigation in our courses… Here, we encourage you to take courses in other departments that have nothing to do with business. That allows you to think cross-disciplinary, and your critical thinking skills are different because you have to bring a different discipline to business problems.”

The staff also makes the business department at Wheaton stand out, and Dr. Lawter has advocated strongly for faculty who are a mix of scholars and professionals. When I asked why, Dr. Lawter claims “…what our academic focused faculty bring is a deep understanding of theory and application of that theory…What the professors of practice bring is real world experience, and they’re able to help students understand not just the application of what they’re learning, but just what the cutting edge and the innovation are out there because they’re all people who currently have something else going on. So it’s important that you have both this theoretical and experiential knowledge that’s part of the program.”

Dr. Lawter didn’t begin her career in academia, however. She began as a statistician with a marketing company, building large transactional databases for retailers. Once starting a family, she changed careers again and began working for a recruiting company. Shortly after, she started her own recruiting company, which she ran successfully for twelve years. 

When we asked how she went from statistics to entrepreneurship and then to academia, she said, “I mean, your interests change. And what you find challenging changes, and the world changes. So, as the world changes, your interests change. Well, of course, your job is going to change, and your career is going to change.”

On the topic of change, Wheaton recently announced a new marketing major and minor available to students. When I asked why there was so much excitement about the new major, Dr. Lawter credits the tangibility of the major as marketing is something we all have experience with. Other new majors are in the works as well. Dr. Lawter said, “We’re working on a finance major, a finance minor, and then we’ll be working on an entrepreneurship minor next year sometime.”

2024 marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Business and Management Major. We asked Dr. Lawter where she saw the major going in the next ten years. She says she sees the department growing, contributing to Wheaton’s success, and adding graduate programs in the future. What she also wants for the department, however, is for more interdisciplinary degrees to be added as the college grows. 

As for current projects, Dr. Lawter is updating the “Idea Lab” at Wheaton, a student incubator and innovation space created in 2019. She aims to build on the work that has been done previously but also “broaden it so it incorporates entrepreneurship programs, business skill development programs, global understanding programs, and then innovation programs.” The plan is for the Idea Lab to be a campus resource, not just a business resource. 

Before leaving, we asked her if she had any advice for graduates, as we are quickly approaching my senior year. She says there are three things you need to do to succeed. Dr. Lawter says, “the first of which is, I think you have to be adaptable. The second thing is I think you have to be able to collaborate. And the third thing is, I think you have to be able to take feedback and use that feedback to improve yourself.”