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Jill Stearns named MJC president
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Jill Stearns, the vice president of Educational Services and chief instructional officer at West Hills College in Coalinga, Calif., has been named the new president of Modesto Junior College.

“I am excited to become part of Modesto Junior College,” Stearns said. “MJC has an amazing 90-year history of strong academic programs, workforce development, and community education.”

The Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously selected Stearns at a special board meeting Tuesday. Stearns bested three finalists for the post – Lisa Conyers, vice president of Academic Affairs at Moreno Valley College; May Kuangchi Chen, vice president of Student Services at Berkeley City College; and Linda Berry, vice president of instruction at BCC – following a nationwide search which began Jan. 1.

Stearns will assume her new role on July 1, replacing interim MJC president Mary Retterer. Retterer replaced former MJC President Gaither Loewenstein, who resigned in May 2011 following the revelation of controversial songs he had written while performing as a singer-songwriter between 2000 and 2009. Loewenstein’s songs included lyrics about being abused as a child, cocaine use, and comparisons of Amtrak and Nazi Germany.

Stearns will serve as MJC’s eighth president in 11 years, a tumultuous period of time which saw massive budget cuts to the college which included the elimination of entire disciplines.

“Jill is smart, strong, straightforward, and gives me great hope for long term stability in the leadership at MJC,” said YCCD Board Chair Mike Riley. “Her commitment to excellence is a reflection of her values and her character.”

Stearns has worked for West Hills College since 2004, where she built relationships with the community, employers, and area schools. In particular, a collaboration with Coalinga State Hospital has led to new West Hills College programs targeted at meeting the hospital’s needs.

Stearns previously worked in business for 15 years, serving as president and CEO of J. Stearns, Inc. (Coyote Chevron) and general manager of Pecks, both of Avenal, Calif. She holds a Master of Science in Instructional Technology from National University, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and will soon complete a Ph. D. in Community College Leadership from Walden University.

Those qualifications set Stearns apart from competitors, according to YCCD Chancellor Joan Smith.

 “Jill will be a great fit for MJC. It takes more than qualifications to be successful as a college president. Her references were outstanding,” Smith said. “She also has a strong background in higher education, accreditation, and instruction, and has successfully run her own business.”