Author Archives: Cari Craven

Youth Firefighters Complete Columbia College Fire Science Course in Pine Grove

Story by Ike Dodson, PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Former CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Lee Winton left his expectations at home in his favorite chair when he ditched retirement to teach a semester of Fire Science 1 for Columbia College at Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp in early February.

Sixteen weeks and 17 passing grades later, Winton isn’t sure who learned from whom.

“I knew going in the door that I had never talked to an audience like this, and that it would be a challenge to work with people who have struggled so much in their lives,” Winton said. “But it was a good challenge, and it became a very rewarding endeavor.

“I may have gotten more out of it than they did.”

Transfers and discharges can make the cast of a correctional classroom fluctuate, but 17 of the 23 students who enrolled in Winton’s class stayed the course and etched three units on their Columbia College transcript April 25.

“The results were much greater than I had anticipated,” Winton said. “I was very pleased they hung in there.

“It was challenging for them, but I saw them grow as we worked through the semester. I saw lights coming on in their heads once they were used to the routine and my expectations.”

The challenges were remarkable.

Sixty-six youthful offenders at Pine Grove work with CAL FIRE in state and county parks during the day, performing stream clearance, wild land fire prevention tasks and restoration work. During the fire season, youth crews are involved in wild land fire suppression throughout the state.

Pine Grove youth also combat area flooding and in 2017, put in over 80,000 hours on fire lines and over 200,000 hours of community service.

They arrive at class amid the dogged pace of those camp duties. To successfully complete a college course, youth must demonstrate tireless resolve.

The reward rationalizes the effort.

“The Fire Science 1 class was most beneficial since being a firefighter is the career I want to pursue,” youth firefighter Julian Rodriguez-Ortiz said. “The information and the visitors Chief Winton provided were inspiring and informing. Chief Winton taught me so much and encouraged me to go after my goal 100 percent.”

Those visitors’ ― representatives from CAL FIRE, the US Forest Services and local government ― encouraged youth to stay out of trouble and pursue rewarding fire service careers.

“This class opened my eyes to what is really available to me, since I want to pursue firefighting as a career,” student Alexander Romano said. “Chief Winton brought a variety of people representing different areas of firefighting. The most inspirational was Armando Perez, a ‘hotshot’ from El Dorado National Forest. I identified with his life story and realized I could accomplish success after all the struggle.”

A hotshot crew is an elite team of highly- trained wildland firefighters, tasked to battle the most serious fires in the country. Many consider the crews to be the “Navy Seals of firefighting.”

Youth firefighter Chance Pike said interactions with the hotshot crew member was his most inspiring moment in the 16-week class.

“I started out taking this class with no intention of enjoying it,” he admitted. “Instead, it turned out to be a class that opened my mind to possibly going on to become a firefighter.

“The people and equipment Chief Winton brought to class were exciting and changed my mind about becoming a firefighter.”

Students supplemented the course with study sessions with Pine Grove instructor Judy Levenson three times a week. She also participated in classes and was ecstatic when 17 of the youth completed the course in April.

“I believe the most important thing Chief Winton brought was encouragement and support of these young men,” she said. “He opened a future none thought possible and I’m sure several will pursue firefighting as a career.”

Winton said his curriculum followed the same path he developed when teaching the class at Modesto Junior College, pre-retirement, but he modified his delivery.

“I had to adjust the pace of the class that was appropriate for the students, because you really couldn’t make any assumptions about anything,” he explained. “They have experienced a lot, and their reading comprehension, word comprehension and understanding of basic theories is just different than other students.

“The kids seemed to embrace it, and the support from staff was amazing. Everyone was super supportive.”

Winton said Columbia College has asked him to teach more Fire Science 1 classes at Pine Grove. After the success of this year’s course, his retirement may take another vacation.

Columbia College Spring 2018 President’s List

Columbia College has named 158 students to the spring 2018 semester President’s List. This honor is reserved for students completing twelve or more units of coursework in a single semester at Columbia College and earning a cumulative grade point average between 3.5 and 4.0, with no grade lower than “C.”

The spring 2018 President’s List honorees are listed below by hometown. We are pleased to formally recognize their exceptional academic achievement.


Dr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay Selected President for Columbia College

Dr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay has accepted an offer by the Yosemite Community College District (YCCD) to become the new president of Columbia College, effective July 16, 2018. YCCD Board Chair Darin Gharat formally announced Dr. Bandyopadhyay as Columbia College’s next President at the YCCD Board of Trustees’ May 9 meeting. Chair Gharat reported, “The decision was unanimous. The Board looks forward to Dr. Bandyopadhyay’s leadership and is confident in his commitment to serving the students and community within the Columbia College service area.”

Bandyopadhyay will succeed Columbia College President Dr. Angela Fairchilds, who is retiring after 38 years in higher education. “I am thrilled to be the next President at Columbia College. The natural beauty of the campus and friendliness of people I met during the forum left a lasting impact. I am looking forward to working with campus folks and the community,” commented Bandyopadhyay on the announcement.

Dr. Bandyopadhyay has over 21 years of experience in higher education including 13 years as a leader in community colleges where he was involved in national initiatives such as Achieving the Dream, Foundations of Excellence, and Survey of Entering Student Engagement.  Dr. Bandyopadhyay is currently the Executive Vice President of Educational Programs and Student Services at Cypress College.  Prior to that he worked as the Director of Institutional Research and Planning, also at Cypress College; Director of Institutional Research at Zane State College; and, Budget & Policy Analyst at Ohio University.  He served 4 years as a full-time faculty in Computer Science at the National Institute of Information Technology.  He has a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Ohio University, an MBA from Ohio University, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Kolkata University.

As an educational leader, Dr. Bandyopadhyay states, “I have great opportunity to work with the local community and leaders from other educational institutions. When community and educators work together, great things happen: not only does it increase college participation, completion, and workforce development, but also helps reduce crime rate, decrease racism and hate crime, improves understanding of civic issues, and develops good citizens. I call that collective impact work. I love that type of work and look forward to joining the Columbia College Community to bring lasting change.”

According to YCCD Chancellor Henry Yong, “Dr. Bandyopadhyay is an excellent fit for Columbia College. His teaching experience, background in research, and years in higher education, specifically in community colleges, will serve the College well.”

Bandyopadhyay’s selection comes after a nationwide search conducted by PPL, Professionals.  The search began in January. Columbia College Presidential forums were held in April, prior to Chancellor Yong interviewing finalists for the position.


Columbia College will hold its 49th Commencement on Friday, April 27 at 6:00 p.m. in the Oak Pavilion. A brief reception for the graduates and guests will be held immediately after the ceremony in Carkeet Park next to the pavilion.

The 297 students in the 2018 graduating class have earned a total of 136 Associate of Arts Degrees and 149 Associate of Science Degrees. Forty students will graduate with Distinction (cumulative grade point averages of 3.75 or better) and 35 with honors (between 3.5 and 3.74 grade point averages).

Twenty-five graduates earned more than one Associate degree:   Jamie Akins, Clifford Armstrong, Sarah Ashlock, Ian Austin, Sean Bell, Barbara Bryan, Ayla Buck, Ryan Christopher, Brett Dolan, Elizabeth Ekstrum, Shane Ekstrum, Derek Goodrich, Jamie Guerrero, Jennifer Hamrick, Kierin Harrison, Ronald Hawkins, Amanda Hummel, Elizabeth Jurado, Carmen Kelly, Stephanie Manthei, Mary McDermand, Alex McDonald, Mason Mendoza, Ryan Moyles, Taylor Moyles, Hayley Mutchler, Rachelle Palomino, Elias Pepito, Josephine Price, Fanjaharilanto Rasoavero Drake, Francesca Rodriguez, Michael Sturgis, Monica Taylor, Rachel Taylor, Kevin Tillery, Rachel Van Winkle, Jonah Vassar, Megan Vistica, Karen Williams, and Christian Wilson.

The following students have earned both an associate degree and a certificate will be presented to Nolan Adam-Chinn, Miles Aguilar, Gwendolyn Craig, Hayley Gorden, Denise Hinshaw, Benjamin Homberg, Katie Landis, Mary McDermand, Rita May Merritt, Daniel Navarro, Cody Salvador, and Jasmine Van Lehn. In addition to conferring of degrees, eighty-four students will be presented with Certificates of Achievement at the ceremony.

By hometowns or residing cities, members of the Columbia College graduating class of 2018 are:



Alameda, CA
Mason F. Mendoza


Altaville, CA
Michael B. Keller
Karina Ortega
Amy Alexis Sanchez


Angels Camp, CA
Ryan-Alexander ArceJaeger
Trenton Lee Bennett
Bria M. Calhoun
Sally Diamanti-Wilson
Jordan C. Gomez
Hayley Lynn Gorden
Ryan Parker Jones
Ashlen Hope Mayben
Ethan Christian Moes
Marisol Rodriguez
Michael Alan Barden Wilmshurst
Christian Arthur Wilson


Antioch, CA

Miles Damian Aguiar



Arnold, CA

Bailey Michael Amburgey-Wilkes

Paxton Sally Mae Fassbender

Ronald S. Hawkins

Austin Noel Smith

Monica Maria Taylor



Belleville, IL

Candace L. Turner



Big Bear City, CA

Gwendolyn Craig



Buena Park, CA

Jarrod Duane Garrison

Mayada Tranel-Chachere Leonard



Chinese Camp, CA

Robert Michael Behee


Coalinga, CA

Charlie Jeanne Cites



Coarsegold, CA

Alexandra Devon Long



Columbia, CA

Kai John Bannister

Sarah Audrey Elizabeth Gaestel

Louis Gregson Huntley, III

Molly L. Olson

Fanjaharilanto J. Rasoavero Drake



Copperopolis, CA

Megan Nicole Graham

Summer Brianna Hansen

Darrell B. Lucas

Alyssa Danielle Mascote

Sarah L. McGee

Alinda Rahn

Elizabeth Ingrid Rand

Jennifer A. Roe

Steven L. Rose

Vaughn E. Warriner

Kristina Rae Zimmerman


Coulterville, CA

Sean M. Bell

Brooke Lyn Bozzo

Kimberly A. Busby

Magnum L. Godfrey

Mary Jane McDermand


Cupertino, CA

Charles R. Christ



Douglas Flat, CA

Kenna Nicole Evans



Downey, CA

Jamie Christina Guerrero


Eden, ID      

Amy Lynne Alves



Escalon, CA

Audrey Layne Sabina Orr



Fullerton, CA

Hayley Elizabeth Winters



Jamestown, CA

Joseph J. Campbell

Efrain Corral

Brett James Dolan

Bo Jacqueline Gonzalez

Kierin A. Harrison

Kristi Jane Insilan

Ryan J. Lacasse

Erin Lee Nichols

Ryder Lewis Richards

Peter Tidball

Rachel D. Van Winkle

Boclaire Vaughn

Melvin Robert Wignall

Nicole Marie Wilkins

Ben Darrel Williams


La Grange, CA

Tristan Clay Avalos

Kennedy F. Bruce

Arianna R. Dias

Danielle L. Trotter


Lathrop, CA

Samantha Marie Jones



Livermore, CA

Andrew Gordon Hall

Kirsten Elizabeth Hall


Lodi, CA

Samuel Lewis Brumm

Kurt Jeffrey Johnson

David W. Ring


Los Angeles, CA

Courtney Erica Young



Mariposa, CA

Patience A.K. McCoy

Hanna Rose Olson


Merced, CA

Bryce A. Bernat



Mi Wuk Village, CA

John Joseph Contreras

Rachelle Irene Palomino


Modesto, CA

Anthony R. Berbena

Abby Margaret Breitzman

Emily Marie Chavez

Garrett Ryan Johnson

Kyler Garrett Machado

Alexander Jason McDonald

Tamara Dawn McLain

Sarah F. Miser

Kayla A. O’Connell

Anton Daniel Sonke

Sarah Arlene Wallace


Mokelumne Hill, CA

Taylor Nichole Bratcher



Mountain Ranch, CA

Bryce Gabriel Dorflinger

Mackenzie L. Dwight

Karen Michelle Williams



Murphys, CA

Justin David Barnes

Shane K. Clifton

Kailyn Arlene Finley

Gabriela Gomez

Katie Mae Landis

Joshua Michael Massal

Alicia J. Mcdaniel

Daniel J. Navarro

Andre M. Sage


Oakdale, CA

Raeleen D. Cone

Dustin Edward Costello

Kaylee Reann De Ruyter

Crystal Ann Dyrcz

Benjamin G. Eagleton

Austin Tyler Echols

Samantha Elizabeth Esquivel

Alicia Jeanette Farris

Brandon Lee Finley

Trae Matthew Folla

Raymond Tyler Gerdes

Nathanael M.E. Higle

Kimberly Brooke Kraus

Stephanie Marie Manthei

Kelsey Giulianna Marino

Virginia Montes

Lisa Marie Morris

Breanna Marie Perez

Carley Autumn Ross

Tanner Wesley Smith

Megan Renee Tackett

Kevin M. Tillery

Courtney Lynn Voelker

Samuel Patrick Walker

Kendra Kathlyn Whorton


Oakmont, CA

John Alexander Clark



Oroville, CA

Virginita Marie McGrath



Pine Grove, CA

Cody A. Salvador



Redwood City, CA

Danny Lee Harthun



Rescue, CA

John E. Wheeler



Riverbank, CA

Micayla Dalene Nelson


Sacramento, CA

Grant Patrick Duran



San Andreas, CA

Jared M. Cragun

Shasta Marie Garcia

Michelle Marie McBride


San Jose, CA

Eric A. Cancilla

Amanda Olivia Lancaster

Natasha Sarah Sanchez

Jeremiah R. Wilson

Jacob W. Woodford


Santa Cruz, CA

Nolan P. Adam-Chinn



Sonora, CA

Alexander Dennis Adam

Alaric Bradley Adams

Jacob Ryan Alvarado

Mikaela Elizabeth Amayawood

Clifford J. Armstrong

Sarah Rene Ashlock

Ian Fraser Austin

Robert C. Bannwarth

Abrianna Barrera

Christa Lee Bartels

Emily Ann Beluardo

Keeley Marie Benton

Patricia G. Bibal

Michayla Marie Botts

Karla Bowman

Isabella Christine Boyack

Alaina Nicole Brosnan

Christianna Joy Bush

Aleyah Cordoba

Brendan Edmond Lee Danicourt

Ryan Patrick Dies

Courtney Anne Divine

Natasha Jean Eaves

Sierra R. Engle

Kelley O. Figley

Chris Michael Forster

Jenine Danika Frost

Gregory L. Gayle

Michaela M. Goellner

Jennifer L. Hamrick

Sierra Dawn Hartsog

Denise K. Hinshaw

Benjamin Robert Holmberg

Amber L. Isnec

Jeffrey D. James

Quinlan Kenneth Joyce

Elizabeth Jurado

Timothy Patrick Justice, II

Ashley Janelle Kennedy

Hanna C.E. Kentta-Brown

James Michael Kress

Hillary A. Liljedahl

Dalton Moreno Lyons

Rita May F. Merritt

Mark Lloyd Mills

Melissa Murry

Sabrina Dawn Nash

Samuel Jeffery Nash

Elizette Soto Nelson

Brooke Nielsen

Derek Oliver Nilsen

Jessica Leigh Nosanow

Jose I. Paz, Jr.

Elias J. Pepito

Shylynn Angelique Pollard

Josephine May Price

Natalie Forrest Rade

Jacob W. Ramsey

Treasure E. Ratcliff

Kerry A. Rice

Francesca J. Rodriguez

Tony Jay Rogers

McKenzie Leigh Rollins

Samuel A. Savage

Emily L. Schmittle

Dylan Michael Skutches

Maddison Leann Stevens

Michael Joseph Sturgis

Gabriella R. Taylor

Devin Robert Terrill

Stephanie Lynne Teuton

Rayanna Faye Torok

Melissa Anne Tuck

Isabel Mia Valadez

Logan Frasier Van Bezey

Jonah J. Vassar

Mason Cruz Verde-Green

Stephanie Lyka R. Viceral

Sal Villafana

Megan Renee Vistica

Bryon Thomas Walker

Dawn Michelle Warfield

Sienna Nichole Weeks

Kara Louise Wessel

Ryan J. Whalen

Summer N. Williams

Stephanie A. Wise

Keeley Anne Wivell

Rachel Olivia Wyatt

Evan Ryan Young


Soulsbyville, CA

Hailey May Danicourt

David J. Ervin

Abraham J. McDonald

Arissa Jade Tischman



Steven Point, CA

Lamu S. Ryavec



Sutter Creek, CA

Amanda N. Hummel



Tollhouse, CA

Stephanie Hope Valenzuela



Tuolumne, CA

Brianna L. Barclay

Evelyn Diane Blue

Melody J. Brown

Jonah Matthew Funk

Carmen Kelly

Analycia Renee Miervalle

Mason Taylor Montgomery

Margie N. Peau

Aaron Rasmussen

Susie B. Sugg

Rachel Ann Taylor

Adam Michael Walker


Turlock, CA

Samuel D. Ewing

Efren Joe Northcutt

Andrew Vincent Preuss



Twain Harte, CA

Jamie Lee Akins

Sheila Blackburn

Michael D. Brautovich

Barbara L. Bryan

Ayla Rose Buck

Ryan J. Christopher

Sean J. Griffith

David C. Heston-Sanders

Kathleen Nicole Hobbins

Hayley Christina Mutchler

Brian Christopher Winters


Union City, CA

Derek Kevin Goodrich



Vallecito, CA

Carter T. Christian-Billings

Elizabeth A. Ekstrum

Shane A. Ekstrum



Valley Springs, CA

Jacob A. Evans

Karli N. Gerlinger

Carrissa Marie Gomez

Jasmine N. Van Lehn

Amber Elizabeth Arvin


Wallace, CA

Ryan Joseph Moyles

Taylor John Moyles


Waterford, CA

Quentin Howard Muncy

Columbia College Presidential Finalists Selected

The Columbia College Presidential Search Committee has selected two finalists who will participate in community open forums scheduled for April 18 and 19, 2018 at Columbia College.

The finalists (with most recent position held) are listed below with forum times:



Dr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay – (Wednesday, April 18, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Dogwood Forum Building)

(Executive Vice President of Educational Programs and Student Services, Cypress College – Cypress CA)



Dr. James Todd – (Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. in the Dogwood Forum Building)

(Vice President of Student Services at Modesto Junior College – Modesto, CA)

The search committee was chaired by Dr. Melissa Raby, Vice President of Student Services, Columbia College. Initial interviews were completed April 6, 2018 and the names of the two finalists have been forwarded to Chancellor Yong and the YCCD Board of Trustees.

Open forums have been scheduled on April 18 and April 19 in the Dogwood Forum, Columbia College, 11600 Columbia College Drive, Sonora. The forum on April 18 will be from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., the forum on April 19 will be from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Each finalist will be given an opportunity to discuss their preparation for the position, their education and leadership philosophy, concluding with a time to respond to questions from the forum attendees. The forums are open to the public and community members are warmly invited to attend.


Dr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay

(Forum date/time: April 18, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.)


  • Ph.D. in Higher Education, Ohio University
  • MBA, Ohio University
  • B.S. in Physics, Kolkata University

Professional Experience:

  • Executive Vice President of Educational Programs and Student Services, Cypress College
  • Director of Institutional Research and Planning, Cypress College
  • Budget and Policy Analyst, Ohio University


Dr. James Todd

(Forum date/time: April 19, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.)


  • Ph.D. and M.A in Cultural Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • M.A. in Anthropology, The George Washington University
  • B.A. in Anthropology, New College of the University of South Florida
  • A.A. in General Studies, Brevard Community College

Professional Experience:

  • Vice President of Student Services, Modesto Junior College
  • Professor of Anthropology and Academic Senate President, Modesto Junior College

Columbia College’s Symphony of the Sierra on April 17th

The Symphony of the Sierra 2018 Spring Concert will be held at Columbia College, Dogwood Forum, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The repertoire provides a wonderful introduction to orchestral music for children, while being complex enough to satisfy the seasoned classical ear.

The orchestra is excited to be performing the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Gershwin’s American in Paris, Gounod’s Judex from Mors et Vita, and Williams’s English Folk Song Suite.

The symphony is delighted to introduce the Symphony of the Sierra Beginning Strings (a Community Education course) — performing in their first concert.  This is a free event open to the public and all are welcome.

Columbia College Foundation Honors Students

Columbia College Foundation HONORS STUDENTS – More than $120,000 in Scholarships AWARDED

The Columbia College Foundation and its community partners will present more than $120,000 in scholarships to qualified and deserving students at the annual Columbia College Scholarship and Awards Celebration on Thursday, April 12.  The event, 4:30-5:30 pm at the Dogwood Forum on campus, features student and community speakers, musical performances and presentation of the Student of the Year awards.

Speakers at Thursday’s event include Elsie Bruno, a retired Columbia College counselor who was the college’s first scholarship coordinator, nursing student Melissa Murray who was selected 2018 Student of the Year, and re-entry student Matthew Burbey who will share his story of starting a support program to help students like himself who were formerly incarcerated.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, the Foundation and community partners awarded more than 150 scholarships to more than 90 students, totaling more than $120,000 in support for their educational expenses. Many of these scholarships are contributed by community organizations and individuals, many are offered annually through the Foundation’s endowed funds, and more than 20 each year are funded through the Foundation’s Osher Scholarship Endowment, established in partnership with the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Foundation for California Community Colleges and community donors.

Columbia College students are encouraged to apply for scholarships each fall. Criteria for awards vary depending on donors’ preferences, which include area of study, academic excellence, volunteer involvement or financial need.

“I deeply appreciate the generosity of our donors who help support the success of our students through scholarships,” noted Dr. Angela Fairchilds, College President. “For many students, this kind of support is critical in helping them persevere.  Their personal stories are very compelling”

It is a point of pride for the college to have many internal campus donors – three student clubs sponsor annual scholarships, as well as all employee groups and dozens of individual faculty members and staff.

Colette Such, Columbia College Foundation President added, “Though it’s a great amount of work for all who read scholarship applications and choose scholarship recipients, it is truly a labor of love. Their stories often bring us to tears, their work inspires us, and their futures give us hope”


The Columbia College Foundation is a community nonprofit established in 1972 to promote quality higher education that enriches the academic, economic, and cultural life of our community. The Foundation’s mission is to promote student success by providing community resources that support and expand educational opportunities for Columbia College students. Donations to the Columbia College Foundation are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Questions about the Foundation should be directed to Amy Nilson, Director of Development, at (209) 588-5055 or

Columbia College Hosts Occupational Olympics

Columbia College will host several hundred high school students for the 18th annual Occupational Olympics to be held on Friday, March 16, 2018. The contests will run from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with the award ceremony immediately following.

Students from Tuolumne County will compete in twelve separate events that challenge them to think critically in a contextual environment.  The events include automotive, child development, computer business applications, cosmetology, digital photography, law enforcement, entrepreneurship, hospitality management, health occupations, fire technology, forestry & natural resources, and welding.

Dr. Klaus Tenbergen, the Dean of Career Technical Education & Economic Development at Columbia College says, “The Occupational Olympics allows regional high school students to develop the abilities to think critically, communicate clearly, and perform effectively through CTE competitions. Over the years the number of participants has been increasing and so has the number of competitions.”

Students from Tuolumne and Calaveras County high schools are competing. The Superintendents from the participating high schools and the Columbia College President, Dr. Angela Fairchilds will be presenting the awards.


For more information, contact:

Dr. Klaus Tenbergen

Dean of Career Technical Education & Economic Development

Office: 209.588.5142

Cell: 559.994.6434

President Fairchilds Announces Her Retirement

Columbia, CA — With a series of significant goals met, solid leadership and a strong strategic plan in place, Columbia College’s president says she is ready to pass the torch.

Speaking with Clarke Broadcasting about her decision to retire this June, Dr. Angela Fairchilds, whose four-year Mother Lode tenure caps off a 38-year career in higher education, says that her head and heart both finally chimed in to tell her it is time to step back. Chuckling, she confides, “My husband has been retired now for 15 years — he retired when we came back to California from Arizona — and I think he was hoping then that I would have been ready!”

Describing Columbia College as a special place that she knows will be left in safe hands, Fairchilds confides, “The timing feels right. We have a talented leadership team in place now…some strong faculty working collegially to achieve the goals and priorities of the college and meeting the needs of the students and the community.” Adding to her rationale she notes, “We have our strategic plan in place, our foundation is really on solid ground and we just launched the Columbia Promise [a free tuition program, as reported here] for the high school students. So we have accomplished a lot in the last four years — and I think the college is moving forward on a strong path and we have the right leadership team in place to keep it moving along.”

A Healthy Time To Depart

When Fairchilds arrived in 2014, fresh from a similar post at Woodland Community College, she did not see a retirement horizon, though watching personal friends over the past couple of years lose their spouses, some very suddenly and unexpectedly, started her thinking about it. “I wanted to make sure Dave [my husband] and I had quality time together to travel and do some of the fun, leisurely things on our own schedule while we still had the time together — and good health to travel and do those kinds of things,” she explains. Those thoughts helped form her decision over this past Christmas break.

Looking back on her time at Columbia she recounts, “One of the things that I made a priority when I arrived was to make sure the college reconnected in a meaningful way to the community and I think we have done that.” Since word first began circling about her retirement a few weeks ago, she says she received welcome confirming feedback about that effort.

Too, she says, “Columbia becoming well-known in the state and nationally because, as I like to say, ‘we are small but mighty’. The team up here is not afraid to compete against the ‘big dogs’. We have been successful and the [college’s] apprenticeship grants [as reported here] are a fine example of that. For a small college for us to be able to qualify for that type of funding and those kinds of programs is significant. Getting that kinds of recognition… looking for different ways to serve our community and help our students be successful is front and center for us — and I think that we have done an excellent job with those two things.”

Recruitment Plans Now Rolling

As far as succession plans go, Fairchilds says the processes are in place. The district has contracted with a recruiting consultant; published the opening of her position; formed a review committee and set up a timeline that anticipates a new president to be on board by the beginning of July. In fact, final interviews and public forums are slated the week of April 16-20, while faculty and staff are still within the school year.

“I wanted to give the district the whole six-month time-frame to find somebody to fill my size six and a half shoes,” Fairchilds jokes, adding that when the time comes to go it will definitely be a tug for her. Future plans include retiring to Oro Valley just outside of Tucson, Arizona, where she and her husband have maintained a longtime home that will become a home base for travel and other activities. An Alaska cruise planned for June has been pushed to September, a time that she notes was previously impossible for her to travel at all. It will be followed sometime next year with a nice long break in the British Isles, her home country.

Looking to her soon-to-be new schedule ahead, Fairchilds is practically incredulous as she shares a parting comment, “In 38 years I have never been able to be gone for more than two weeks at a time, so I am really looking forward to…nice quiet time, traveling with my husband — and not having anyone else but me driving my schedule!”

42nd Annual Columbia Wine Tasting To Benefit Columbia College Hospitality Management Program

The Columbia College Foundation will host the 42nd Annual Columbia Wine Tasting – a benefit event from 1:00 to 4:00pm SUNDAY, April 15 to support the Columbia College Hospitality Management Program.

“The Columbia event provides wine enthusiasts a chance to sample local wineries and restaurants alongside a number of California’s favorite producers while visiting unique sites in the State Historic Park,” according to Tom Bender, a Hospitality instructor at Columbia College and longtime organizer of the tasting. “Many are small production wineries pouring new and limited release wines.”

Guests will be able to sample premium wines from more than 70 wineries, and enjoy hors d’oeuvres prepared by students enrolled in the Columbia College Hospitality Management Program, as well as a NEW culinary competition featuring Hospitality students and chefs from local restaurants.

Tickets can be purchased online for $55 per person in advance, or $60 per person at the event as available. Attendees receive a complimentary souvenir wine glass and wine tastings from participating wineries and food vendors. For more information or to make a reservation, visit or call (209) 588-5089. The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau is a new sponsor for this year’s event.


Contact:  Columbia College Hospitality Management Program – Don Dickinson, Program Coordinator            (209) 588-5135

WHAT: 42nd Annual Columbia Wine Tasting

WHEN: Sunday, April 15, 2018, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Columbia State Historic Park