Investing in the Best

In everything, Ilene Kleinsorge is driven by a staunch commitment to quality, originality and accountability. Nothing less will suffice in today’s competitive climate.

Kleinsorge photo
A glossy ebony sculpture from East Africa — a gift from her students — symbolizes the values Ilene Kleinsorge nurtures and rewards: initiative, professionalism, innovation, discipline and, above all, the entrepreneurial spirit (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

By Lee Anna Sherman

Do you know what this is?” the three students asked as they presented Ilene Kleinsorge with a smooth, black sculpture. She looked at the carved figure, a trio of human forms holding an orb aloft.

“Sure, it’s ebony,” replied Kleinsorge, dean of the OSU College of Business.

“It’s us!” exclaimed the students, who had brought the gift from East Africa. “It’s us, changing the world.”

As she tells the story, Kleinsorge picks up the carving and holds it lovingly. “This,” she says, “is why I get up in the morning.”

As holder of the Sara Hart Kimball Dean’s Chair, Kleinsorge’s greatest satisfaction comes from investing in talented, motivated students like these members of OSU Students in Free Enterprise, a student organization that helps local and global communities through entrepreneurship education. Their trip to Arusha near Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro to meet with founders of a micro-enterprise program arose from initiatives she has launched with funds from her endowed position and other discretionary dollars.

“I’m investing in students who want to invest in themselves,” she explains. “I look for students who take initiative, who are professional and focused in a disciplined way. I leverage my social network and resources to help them.”

Ranging widely in focus — from business models in developing nations to virtual project management in multinational companies — Kleinsorge’s initiatives share one common denominator: the entrepreneurial spirit.

“Having access to discretionary dollars allows me to be entrepreneurial within the institution,” she says. “It gives us the opportunity to dream and aspire to better things, even in this budget environment.”

In an economy changing at lightning speed, driven by technologies that become obsolete almost as fast as firms can get them installed, the college must be agile, able to anticipate trends, pivot with the times, “explore and experiment”— words Kleinsorge uses frequently. In this hyper-dynamic world of global commerce, teams located all over the planet meet in cyberspace through “distributed workgroups.” She’s passionate about preparing OSU students to compete.

“In multinational corporations, projects move forward 24/7,” she notes. “The project never sleeps. Our students have to be able to work in virtual environments.”

Other initiatives she has funded with donors’ support include: the annual ethics debate at the University of Arizona; the OSU student investment group’s visit to New York City’s financial district; time and tools for faculty to design and pilot new courses; virtual project management with students in India; and the Business Network, which brings women students and women professionals together for monthly meet-ups and mentoring.

“I’m purposefully diverse in what I’ve chosen to invest in,” she says.

In everything, Kleinsorge is driven by a staunch commitment to quality, originality and accountability. Nothing less will suffice in today’s competitive climate.

“I believe,” she says, “that our national imperative is for creativity and innovation.”

For more information about supporting the College of Business, visit, or call the Oregon State University Foundation, 800-354-7281.