Jill Stearns, Modesto Junior College president since 2012, has been named Cuesta College's new president, the school announced Friday after a months-long search that recently came down to five finalists.
The Cuesta College Board of Trustees will formally approve Stearns at its April 11 meeting; Stearns is expected to start July 1 and takes over for outgoing President Gil Stork, retiring after more than five decades in education.
"I was just absolutely elated," she said of her reaction to learning the news March 2.
Stearns said her new job is a homecoming for her; both she and her husband, as well as their two sons, are Cal Poly alumni and they've lived in four different cities in the county.
"Our forever home is in San Luis Obispo," she said.
Stearns takes over at a challenging time for the college. Cuesta faces a $551,000 budget deficit and is locked in a pay dispute with the faculty union.
She said she plans to start her job by listening.
"My first step is going to be spending time getting acquainted with the Cuesta College community," Stearns said. "I will be spending lots of time listening and getting to understand the Cuesta way."
Stearns said she shares Stork's vision of adding a second year to the promise scholarship, which enables high school graduates to receive tuition waivers to attend college.
"That is definitely a priority," she said.
Stearns said she also wants to continue to strengthen the college's burgeoning agriculture and nursing schools, working with local employers to ensure that the college is producing graduates that meet demand.
And she said she is interested in expanding "the educational opportunities that are available in the South County."
Whether that means the possibility of a South County campus, similar to Cuesta's North County location, remains to be seen; she said the first priority is ensuring both ease of access and availability of higher education in the South County.
Stearns said she is also looking forward to being the college's voice in Sacramento.
"We are in the midst of designing and launching a new funding formula for the California community colleges, so right now it's really important to have the voice of Cuesta College heard in that design process," she said.