Facing the retirement of former president Gil Stork, Cuesta College conducted a nationwide search to find the right person to fill the shoes of the 50-year Cuesta veteran who fulfilled a personal goal with the establishment of a second year of the Promise Scholarship — the last item his bucket list — before retiring in June.

On July 11, Dr. Jill Stearns was sworn in as Cuesta College’s seventh Superintendent/President, bringing a complementary history of experience and success to the Central Coast’s premiere community college.

Dr. Stearns had served as president of Modesto Junior College since 2012, where she left a legacy of improving accreditation compliance and decreasing disparity.

“When I arrived at MJC, the college had been placed on sanction and probation in terms of its accreditation,” Stearns said, “there were some very serious issues to be addressed.”

Sterns spent the first couple years focused on aligning the practices with the standards, and for the last four years my focus was moving the needle on the area of student success in terms of student outcomes.

“We were a very diverse campus,” Stearns said, “with around 50 percent hispanics and many other backgrounds and cultures on the campus. There was considerable disparity between the highest performing groups and others. So we focused on raising the completion rates overall to close that gap.”

Stearns’ success at MJC garnered attention and the college was selected to apply for the Aspen Price, was one of 15 schools accredited to award baccalaureate degrees, and was selected as one of 20 demonstration colleges for Guided Pathways: “a student-centered approach that can dramatically increase the number of students earning community college credentials, while closing equity gaps.”

“It is a framework for reimagining and redefining student experience on campus,” Stearns said, “and moving away from what had become a ‘cafeteria-style’ approach to providing students incredible opportunity to explore, but without providing clear direction on the quickest path to completion.”

Leveraging her previous experience, Stearns and the faculty and staff at Cuesta College is getting ready for improving student experience.

“We have already started that process,” Stearns said, “and I’ve had and opportunity to review a 60-page report based on 15 focus groups held at Cuesta last spring. We are capturing the voice and experience of the student and using that to frame our work for redesign.”

PASO Magazine welcomes Dr. Stearns warmly, and we will continue to deliver information about the progress at Cuesta College and deliver information throughout 2019 to help new and returning students get the most of our local college. Stay tuned for monthly installments.