About the President

President Sheila M. Stearns

In December 2016, Dr. Sheila M. Stearns was asked by the Montana Board of Regents and Commissioner of Higher Education to serve as the Interim President of the University of Montana. She assumed her duties on December 12th, making her the 18th, and first female, President of UM.

Prior to becoming President, Dr. Stearns served in a variety of senior administrative positions in higher education, including Vice President of the University of Montana, Chancellor of The University of Montana Western, President of Wayne State College in Nebraska, and Commissioner of Higher Education for Montana. She is a highly respected advocate for educational opportunity.

Dr. Stearns began her career in education leadership as a Vice President of the University of Montana, leading the external relations of the University, including legislative, alumni and foundation relations. In this role, she developed a communications campaign that elevated statewide public support for UM and the Montana University System.

As Chancellor of The University of Montana Western, and again upon her return to Montana as head of the university system, Dr. Stearns supported the faculty in their development of one of the most innovative changes in American public higher education: a complete transformation of curriculum from the typical semester structure to the Experience One block scheduling system. She also led an investment in the outreach and technology arenas that transformed Montana Western’s facilities and garnered national recognition for the college.

As President of Wayne State University in Nebraska, she enhanced the core curriculum, fostered valuable alumni and donor relationships, and initiated investment in facilities, scholarships, and statewide recognition.

As Montana’s longest-serving Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Stearns expanded educational opportunities for Montanans through affordable, assessment-driven practices. She is lauded for her effective communication with board members, university presidents and state leaders in education, and the Montana Legislature. She built a strong workforce alignment with Montana’s health care providers and with K-12 education, a focus that is now prominently recommended in the national landscape of best practices. She initiated the university system’s Lumina grant-funded “College Now” initiative to transform Montana’s vocational-technical colleges into full-service community colleges, resulting in significant benefit for students in transferability and dual enrollment. She was named Commissioner Emerita by the Montana Board of Regents in 2012.

Dr. Stearns holds a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in history, and a doctorate in educational administration and supervision, all from the University of Montana.

Her husband, Dr. Hal Stearns, is also an educator and a native Montanan. They have two children and six grandchildren, all of whom live in Missoula.