Born in 1944, Ostrom came of age during the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. After studies in biology and chemistry at the University of Buffalo and Wilmington College in Ohio, he switched to ceramics, earning his BFA and MFA at Ohio University in 1969. Hired to teach studio class and Asian art history at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in 1969, Ostrom was one of many American artists who moved north to Canada during the tumult of the Vietnam War. He was head of the ceramics department at NSCAD from 1969 to 2008, and was an honorary professor in 1996–97 at Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute in Jianxi Province, China. In 2020 he was selected by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts for the Excellence in Teaching Award.