By February 4, 2024 0 Comments Read More →

InterView – Brian Sanders


Dr, Brian Sanders
President, Modesto Junior College

Modesto Junior College is a treasure. Community colleges are one of the true lifebloods in our country. I am a believer that education is so very important and the quest for knowledge is paramount. It’s our job to learn about and understand how the world works in addition to acquiring skills for a job or vocation. There are so many paths one can take, whether it be academic or vocational, but learning how to think and understand the world around us is so very important. Community colleges make this possible and offer a transition that is accessible to all. Modesto Junior College, a.k.a. MJC has been a key stepping stone for so many, like George Lucas, who famously studied Anthropology at MJC after crashing his car in a near fatal accident and superstar Jeremy Renner who also made his jump to Hollywood via MJC. MJC has been the starting point for generation after generation of our local citizens, providing foundational learning for local businesspeople who now lead us in industry, trades, and many of whom transferred to universities for additional learning. A significant percentage of MJC faculty members and a much higher percentage of MJC staff members began as MJC students.

After a recent series of Presidents appointed from outside the area, local leaders asked, “Hasn’t MJC been able to grow a qualified leader from within like other agencies such as SCOE and Modesto PD have done? Isn’t there someone within the organization with the qualifications and experience for the role who is already committed to the college and the community? The answer turned out to be a resounding, YES!.

Brian Sanders is a professor of Mathematics who has been a leader in our educational community. He has the support of the staff at MJC and he has MJC’s best interests at heart. Brian has a doctorate in education from UC Davis, a masters in mathematics from University of Oregon and a bachelors from UC Santa Barbara. He has lived in Modesto for almost 30 years with wife Debbie. Their three daughters attended Sylvan Schools and Beyer High School, participated in Modesto Girls Softball League, competed in the Beyer High School Marching Band and Color Guard, swam for Beyer, and ran in the Modesto Marathon. Let’s get to know Dr. Brian Sanders.

ModestoView: What first interested you about Mathematics?
Brian Sanders: As a freshman in college, I learned that I was good at it – and good at explaining math concepts to others. I got a job in the tutoring center, helped others overcome their fears of math, and decided to go into teaching. It was actually an Introduction to Proofs class in my sophomore year that showed me different aspects of math, such as multiple levels of infinity, that moved beyond the typical sequence of algebra and calculus concepts that triggered my interest in math. In teaching Math for Elementary School Teachers at MJC, I was able to pass along this sense of wonder and joy to many others which, I hope, they passed along to their students in turn.

MV: How did you originally come to Modesto?
BS: I interviewed for a full-time job in Spring of 1994. I was given a campus tour by longtime math instructor, Jim Johnson. We saw the campus together, talked about possibilities, and he mentioned that they were hiring two faculty, but a third retirement was in the wings. I didn’t get tapped for one of those two, but after the interview I contacted the dean, Lance Thompson, and asked about part-time work. He assigned me three classes as a part-timer in Fall 1994, and I made it a point to meet the rest of the faculty and demonstrate my interest in the full-time role. I was blessed to be interviewed again in Spring of 1995 and offered a full-time teaching job, beginning in Fall 1995. My wife and I moved here from the Bay Area and never looked back.

MV: How would do you describe the role of MJC in our community?
BS: MJC is a “stalwart” in our community. That’s an old-time word, usually referring to a person who is rock solid, always there, consistent, strong, and can always be counted on to deliver. That’s MJC. Your readers, their parents, and their grandparents before them all had opportunities to advance their lives and careers by starting at MJC. There, they received terrific instruction, grew as individuals, and prepped for their futures. Later on, they gave back by attending events, contributing to the MJC Foundation, and spreading the good word about the college to everyone.

MV: What are the strengths of MJC?
BS: Check out our catalog of offerings! We have incredible faculty in an amazing variety of fields. With the support of our community through Measure E, we are blessed with excellent instructional facilities in STEM, theater, and healthcare, among others. Despite unrest among upper administration, the faculty and staff and leadership team have remained committed to the good work of helping students fulfill their educational goals. Someone recently mentioned to me, “MJC’s reputation has been tarnished.” That’s a good metaphor. Tarnish is a surface condition. The underlying silver platter remains fully formed and functional. With the right elbow grease and cleaner, you can restore the shine to match the functionality. That’s where we are now. We have some work to do in restoring relationships with the community, but at the core the college is incredibly strong.

MV: Now that you are at the helm, what new directions would you like to explore?
BS: The great thing about coming from within is knowing that our strategic plan is already pointing us in the right directions. We have three goals. First and foremost, our goal is to help each student achieve their goals – whether that’s an entry level technical position or transferring to a university to cure cancer. Our second goal is to strengthen the college from within, and the third is to expand and improve partnerships with the community. All these goals are broad, yet they are fulfilled in the specific situation of each student or community/corporate partner. One key area to continue to grow is in our partnership with BEAM Circular and the bio-industrial manufacturing foreseen as the future for our region. MJC has always been, and will continue to be, the cornerstone technical trainer for the region. As the area develops new manufacturing techniques and facilities, MJC will be right there along the way training up the leaders and technicians to make it all work.

MV: Can anyone attend MJC?
BS: Absolutely! We are focused on training adult learners – traditional transfer students and folks prepping for the trades or healthcare careers. At the Great Valley Museum, we receive busloads of third- and fourth-graders every week who visit the museum and planetarium and envision themselves as future MJC students and scientists. In our MICL program (Modesto Institute for Continued Learning), we have a committed group of retirees who come together regularly to study and learn new information. On our graduation stage every year, we have everyone from concurrent high school students earning their associate degree before their high school diploma up through grandmothers walking alongside their granddaughters. Check out our latest Community Education catalog for easy ways to get started at the college.

MV: What is the most popular AA degree?
BS: Popular programs include nursing, business, psychology, science, and agriculture. These are well known pathways selected by incoming students. But the nature of college includes exploration and learning about new areas, and we find students shifting their focus from one area to another as they learn more about themselves.

MV: What is a great way to get kids involved with higher education?
BS: At MJC, we have a goal to get every local K-12 student on campus as many times as possible so they can really see themselves as college students, and see that MJC is their college! In addition to the GVM noted above, we host high school students for theater day, host the junior high science bowl, host the Regional Science Olympiad with SCOE for high school students, and this year we’re adding the History Day competition with SCOE. Music and dance events on campus are prevalent. And our agriculture program is the best in the state, with every local ag student attending multiple events on campus.

MV: MJC offers 4 year degrees in certain studies, what are they and how are they working?
BS: MJC offers a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care. This week, we had our latest site visit with the accrediting agency, and received extremely positive feedback on the quality and effectiveness of the program. It’s a fully online degree designed for working respiratory care professionals seeking advancement opportunities in their careers. We need to get the word out, as we have some available slots to fill.

MV: For students that wish to continue with a 4-year degree, do you articulate with CSU Stanislaus?
BS: Oh yes! CSU Stanislaus is our most frequent transfer destination. We participate in the Warriors on the Way program, and a CSUS counselor has an office in our transfer center on campus to connect with our students. In addition, though, our students transfer all over the state. Common destinations include CSU Fresno, CSU Chico, UC Davis, and UC Merced. We are partnering closely with UC Merced to grow the number of transfer students headed that way.

MV: You are a member of the North Modesto Kiwanis Club. Why do you think community service is so important?
BS: There are so many needs in our community. We can’t meet all of them. But we can meet SOME of them if we put our time and energy into it. Through service, you work alongside others on a common goal. It builds community. It builds camaraderie. And it inspires you to do more to serve others.

MV: If you had unlimited budget, what would you implement at MJC?
BS: For students, I would provide sufficient financial aid to support their living and family expenses so they could be full-time students. Research shows that students enrolled full-time are more successful and complete their programs far more efficiently. But MJC’s students don’t have those luxuries. They must work part-time (often full-time – and often more than full-time!) to support their families, leaving little time for study. They take a class or two at a time, and it’s such a struggle. On the facilities side, we’re going to develop our Facilities Master Plan in coming months. But big picture, we need a new joint training facility for agriculture and industrial technology on the west campus to properly support the Stan 2030 initiative. And to properly support our student athletes, we need a major upgrade of athletic facilities and training rooms on the east campus. Unlike other students, athletes are required to be full-time students, and their success reflects this commitment. With unlimited resources, I’d love to invest in athletic facilities to help recruit and retain these student athletes.

MV: How do you think your career at MJC has influenced your new role as President?
BS: I grew up here! I was 25 years old when I moved here, fresh out of grad school. I have worked my entire adult life in the Yosemite Community College District. I served as part-time faculty, full-time faculty, union negotiator, district negotiator, dean, VP, and now President. I have watched each president over my tenure here – adopting their effective methods, and learning what NOT to do. I know what our people value and can work alongside them. I also know many of the traumatic events they’ve experienced and can navigate those with empathy.

MV: Describe your ideal Modesto day.
BS: My favorite Modesto day would be a 92 degree Saturday, with a round of FlingGolf with friends in the morning, lunch with my wife and friends sitting outside at a local restaurant, then heading down to the Gallo Grounds for Picnic at the Pops.

MV: Our signature question: Beatles or Stones?
BS: Beatles. But I’d pick 80s rock over either. Grew up on Journey and Foreigner.

Learn more about MJC at www.mjc.edu<www.mjc.edu> and connect with Brian at www.mjc.edu/president/<www.mjc.edu/president/>

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.