Dr. Sheila Stearns Wiki – Dr. Sheila Stearns Biography
Dr. Sheila Stearns, who was the first woman to hold the office of Montana’s commissioner of higher education, died on May 23, 2023, following a brief illness while visiting family in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Sheila Stearns, who was born in Missoula, Montana, obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Whitman College and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Colorado. She married the love of her life, James (Jim) Stearns, in 1964, and the couple had three children. Dr. Stearns’ career as a higher education leader extended four decades.
She began her career as vice president for university relations at the University of Montana, where she worked for ten years before becoming the University of Montana-Western’s chancellor in 1987. Under her leadership, Montana-Western flourished, earning national recognition. Dr. Stearns was named the 10th president of Wayne State College in Nebraska in 1990, becoming the school’s first female president and transforming it into a cutting-edge, technology-driven university.
Ten years later, she was appointed as Montana’s commissioner of higher education, becoming the state’s first female commissioner. During her tenure as commissioner, she prioritized expanding access to higher education for all Montanans, enhancing educational standards, and strengthening ties between Montana’s higher education institutions and the state’s industries. She was also an outspoken supporter of student financial aid. Dr. Stearns served as interim chancellor at Montana State University-Billings in 2007, when she effectively steered the university through a difficult budget situation.
Dr. Sheila Stearns Age
Dr. Sheila Stearns was 76 years old.
Former UM president, commissioner of higher education dies
Following her tenure as commissioner, she worked with the National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges as a senior consultant. Dr. Sheila Stearns died on May 23, 2023, after a brief illness, leaving Montana higher education and the community in sadness. Her impact will continue, as she influenced the lives of innumerable students and educators throughout her illustrious career. While the specific reason for Dr. Stearns’ death is unknown, her departure leaves a huge void in the hearts of those who knew her and appreciates her numerous accomplishments.
Dr. Sheila Stearns’ reputation as a forerunner in Montana’s higher education will carry on in perpetuity. Her vision and leadership will continue to shape Montana’s higher education environment and beyond. Her death is a great loss, but her influence will live on through the students she inspired, the careers she created, and the institutions she helped to improve. Dr. Stearns, may you rest in peace, and thank you for your career of dedication to Montana’s higher education.
According to Paul Tuss, “Many of us lost a very dear friend today in Sheila Stearns.” From my days as an undergraduate at the University of Montana nearly 40 years ago, when she was Director of the Alumni Association, through her year as President of UM, when I was Chair of the Board of Regents, She was always on the cutting edge of doing remarkable things and serving her home state with grace and wisdom. Hal and the Stearns family are in our thoughts and prayers. Sheila, you will be remembered forever.
According to Bruce Sayler, I apologize for the bad news. Sheila always made time for my questions and talks, and she was pleasant and respectful even when we disagreed on some issues. I believe she was a strong leader, and her absence will be regretted. I genuinely wish her a restful night’s sleep. For her visionary leadership, humility, and enthusiasm for education, Dr. Stearns was widely known and admired by colleagues, students, and alumni. Among her many awards are the Distinguished Service Award from the Montana University System, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana, and the Citizen-Times Award from the Montana Historical Society.