Dean Eric Spangenberg’s term as dean of the Merage School represented a commitment to access, innovation and advancing the American dream. • Tyler Robinson/UCI

A Dean’s Farewell: Honoring the Legacy of Dean Eric Spangenberg

December 08, 2020 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

In 2014, Eric Spangenberg was recruited from Washington State University to become dean of the UCI Paul Merage School of Business. Six and a half years later, Dean Spangenberg is ready to pass the torch to Ian Williamson, who most recently served as pro vice-chancellor and dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. As Dean Spangenberg’s term comes to an end, the School honors his legacy and accomplishments.

From Dairy Herdsman to Dean

Spangenberg grew up in the blue-collar town Longview/Kelso, a Southwest Washington community where young adults often were not expected to go to college. Defying expectations, he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Washington State, then waited for his wife to finish her degree as well.

Before and during college, Spangenberg never shied away from manual labor and a hard day’s work. Among other jobs, Spangenberg worked at an aluminum reduction plant, as an appliance delivery person, a milk bottler, a dairy herdsman, a restaurant manager and a production line supervisor for a facility that packaged pickles.

“As my wife finished her bachelor’s degree, I walked away from a job selling life insurance after two weeks,” explained Spangenberg. “It wasn’t for me. One day I decided to take a right turn instead of a left. I pulled over at a dairy farm and asked for a job. An hour later I had changed out of my office clothes and I was bucking hay bales and milking cows.”

As a result of his upbringing and early work experiences, Spangenberg has always held an appreciation for members of society that are often taken for granted—such as retail workers and farmers. A bookish young boy with a love for public libraries, he also developed his own idea of the universality of the American dream.

“The American dream is not to go to college as many in higher ed would have us believe,” he says. “The American dream is about holding a job or enjoying a career that makes a positive difference to your family and your community. That dream comes in many forms; sometimes it is college, sometimes it is not. As educators, however, we have to appreciate these different perspectives and work to provide adequate access and opportunity at every level.”

Spangenberg went on to earn his MBA at Portland State University and then his PhD at the University of Washington. In 1990 he joined the faculty at the Carson College of Business where he developed a global reputation as a scholar in consumer psychology. He was named the Maughmer Freedom Philosophy Chair and Professor of Marketing in 2003 and dean of that college in 2005.

A Business School for the Digital Age

The Merage School has thrived and changed in many ways throughout Dean Spangenberg’s tenure.

In 2017—the School introduced its new tagline: leadership for a digitally driven world. More than simply a branding statement, this initiative led to a comprehensive audit of the course offerings at the Merage School. Classes were reinvented to include key lessons about digital transformation, disruption and how to lead through a changing world. But even before this shift, Dean Spangenberg was working on building a business school for the digital age.

Spangenberg championed the Merage School Digital Learning Program as a way to increase access to quality business education. Immediately upon his arrival at UCI, the online undergraduate minor was born, closely followed by the hybrid FEMBA program, where Fully-Employed MBA (FEMBA) students could receive high-caliber instruction both online and in-person. This program saw the first uptick in applications to the Merage School FEMBA program in more than five years and a significant increase in female professionals pursuing this degree. The Executive MBA program soon followed with hybridization options, leading a shift in the student body in terms of diversity with regard to both gender and ethnic background.

Under his leadership, the Merage School also introduced three new one-year specialty master’s programs: Master of Finance, Master of Science in Business Analytics and Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The School also doubled the size of the nascent Master of Professional Accountancy program in his second year as dean. Commensurate with programmatic growth, the School has grown ladder faculty ranks and built in future growth by over 20%.

Spangenberg prioritized an increase in diversity while increasing access at the School. Hybridizing the FEMBA and EMBA programs meant that more working mothers could pursue their MBAs. The innovative Orange County Scholars program provided emerging community role models in Orange County with the chance to enhance their careers through the pursuit of an MBA. Gender diversity significantly increased in faculty and staff leadership positions under Spangenberg.

The Spangenberg Scholars: Fostering a Global Perspective

In January, Spangenberg will transition to a new role as faculty director of the Center for Global Leadership. In addition to revitalizing his research activities—Spangenberg will focus on “growing the number of opportunities for undergraduates to study abroad and garnering donor support to enable those eye-opening travels for deserving students” as a way to enrich the undergraduate experience and promote a global perspective.

“It’s important to live abroad, not just as a tourist,” he explains. “You learn that all business is global, and that what we call the American dream is a universal dream—working to better your life and the lives of others—and you see our country through a different perspective. It’s a key experience that should be available to everyone.”

Spangenberg, who did not have the opportunity to travel abroad until he was in his 30s as a visiting professor in Russia and Switzerland, acknowledges that oftentimes, studying abroad is the single most impactful experience an undergraduate student can have.

“Many of our undergraduate students are first-gen students who have not allowed themselves to dream about studying abroad and what they might learn in such a program,” says Spangenberg. Making that dream a reality for more students will be a clear objective for the Center for Global Leadership.

In this spirit, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the Merage School came together to celebrate his tenure as dean by creating the Spangenberg Scholars fund. Each year, at least one first-generation student will be awarded a scholarship to support their pursuit of study abroad.

Professor of Marketing Connie Pechmann said, "This scholarship brings us one step closer to ensuring that every Merage School student experiences a high-value international field study. Multinational trade agreements, mass immigration and global warming are just some of the pressing issues facing businesses in today’s increasingly global economy. Merage School international field studies help students understand the different perspectives needed to address these crucial issues." 

While Spangenberg’s last year as dean was a challenging one—facing the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and pausing in-person instruction—Spangenberg is proud of the way the School met the challenges of 2020:

“The Merage School adapted very quickly to our new reality—thanks to our investment and commitment to technology and digital learning—and I could not be prouder. The future is bright for our School and I’m excited to work together as we pursue our dual mission of research scholarship and delivering top-tier business education.”

We are looking forward to personally honoring Eric as soon as large group gatherings are allowed. In the meantime, please feel free to contact him at