The four finalists for Santa Barbara City College superintendent/president spoke at a community forum Monday and will be interviewed by the Board of Trustees Tuesday.

SBCC President Lori Gaskin is retiring Aug. 1 and the board plans to pick a replacement by July 1.

The finalists are Anthony Beebe, president of San Diego City College in San Diego; Kindred Murillo, president of Lake Tahoe Community College in South lake Tahoe; Melinda Nish, president of Southwestern College in Chula Vista; and Jill Stearns, president of Modesto Junior College in Modesto.

Board members, faculty, staff, students and community members attended the forum held at the Garvin Theatre.

Finalists were asked about managing enrollment with local and nonlocal students, their experience with collective bargaining, collaborative efforts with the community, and what they see as challenges for SBCC as an institution and today’s students.

Scroll down to read more biographical information about each of the four finalists.

Nish, who has been superintendent/president of Southwestern College since January 2012, said community colleges are the safety net.

When asked about boosting local student enrollment, she suggested looking at the high school graduation rates and seeing if all students are going to a higher education institution — if not elsewhere, SBCC needs to bring them in, she said.

Melinda Nish

Melinda Nish

Nish said she was an early adopter of technology and taught as an online professor before it was common.

“The generation coming into college have been infant adopter of technology so you cannot have education anymore without technology,” she said.

“I think online is alive and well and here to stay.”

Gaskin asked every candidate what leadership values their colleagues would say they demonstrate every day.

Nish said she is very inclusive, very transparent and result-oriented. Her leadership style is to involve others, including an open door policy and hosting coffee chats, she said.  

“I need to be a support, a coach, a mentor, and model the best behavior.”

As for being result-oriented, she said, “I love talking, I love visioning, I love imagining things but I also like seeing something happen.”

Stearns was hired to lead the Modesto Junior College in mid-2012 and her background includes business as well as education.  

She has experience with general obligation bond measures and would be an advocate for the college to state legislators, she said.

Modesto Junior College had a lot of leadership turnover before she arrived — 11 presidents in 10 years, she said — and there wasn’t an environment of trust or engagement.

Jill Stearns

Jill Stearns

She worked on changing that and adding support systems for students and staff.

The college created student success coaches to help new students through their first year of school, since students weren’t being supported through the enrollment and transfer processes, she said.

“The biggest challenge, really, is life,” for community college students, Stearns said.

Community colleges are designed in the tradition of higher education and many students don’t fit that mold, she said.

The coaches help with that, so students know what resources are available “once they have a life crisis moment,” she said.

“Sick children, the death of a parent, loss of a job — all those things can cause a student to stop out.”

In a response to questions about student housing at SBCC, Stearns said she has worked on a residential campus, at West Hills Community College District in Coalinga, and non-residential.

Santa Barbara’s conversation needs to happen with the community, to see what makes sense, she said.

Stearns said her leadership values are being a team player, team leader, and wanting to hear all sides of an issue.

Beebe has been president of San Diego City College since August 2014 and previously served as president of the district’s continuing education program.

Anthony Beebe

Anthony Beebe

He talked a lot about his past, from growing up on a ranch, to working in a fire house, to being a community college teacher and then administrator.

He said college readiness — a majority of students aren’t prepared for college-level courses when they arrive — and financial debt are challenges for community colleges.

As a pilot program addressing college debt, SDCC recently approved the “San Diego Promise” to give free education to a cohort of 200 students starting this fall, he said.

Beebe said enrollment numbers are dropping across the country but he isn’t a supporter of bringing in more international students.

San Diego Community College also decided that wasn’t a direction it wanted to go, he said.

His leadership values are loyalty, trust and respect, he said.

At SDCC, leadership team members are loyal to each other and the institution, in public and in private, he said.

Murillo has been president at Lake Tahoe Community College since August 2011 and handed in her resignation in January, intending to leave within the next 18 months.

She told the SBCC audience that she doesn’t think it’s fair to secretly look for jobs and not tell her current board.

LTCC has been working on student equity and diversity for the faculty and staff — which is mostly white — in addition to improving its financial outlook since she came on board five years ago.

Kindred Murillo

Kindred Murillo

The college is now the cultural, arts and educational center of South Lake Tahoe, Murillo said.

She has 30 years of experience with collective bargaining, as an employee and manager, and called it “fun.”

Murillo talked about the importance of college affordability, saying current students “don’t have the hope I did when I went to community college.”

In response to a question about local student enrollment versus nonlocal students, Murillo said having international students brings a “global richness to a campus” in addition to being a clear economic driver.

The community and SBCC can sit down and solve the problem together to decide what works for this particular campus, she said.

To answer Gaskin’s question about leadership values, her first response was, “Can I use the word klutz?”

She said her colleagues would call her committed, open, and someone who creates an environment for people to be the best they can be.

“And I expect them to be the best they can be. They’ll tell you that too, they’ll say ‘she has high expectations.’”

 The SBCC Board of Trustees will conduct interviews with the finalists starting Tuesday and plan to make a hiring decision by July 1. 

A fifth finalist, Barbara Kavalier from Navarro College in Texas, later withdrew from consideration, said SBCC spokeswoman Luz Reyes-Martin.

College students, faculty, staff and community members were invited to submit comments about the four finalists to the board until 8 p.m. Monday.

The comments are confidential and will only be shared with the board, according to SBCC.

General comments can be made by emailing and specific comments can be made by emailing the following: 

Anthony Beebe comments:

Kindred Murillo comments:

Melinda Nish comments:

Jill Stearns comments:

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

SBCC Four Finalists for President by Giana Magnoli

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at