Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education

Two Year & Community College Education Staff


John Cech


John E. Cech, Ph.D.

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Dr. John E. Cech is the Deputy Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs for the Montana University System.  As Deputy Commissioner, he also serves as the State Director for Montana’s Carl D. Perkins Program and as the Project Director for Montana’s College!NOW initiative funded through the Lumina Foundation for Education.  John previously served as Dean and campus CEO of the Montana State University Billings College of Technology from 2002-2010.  From 1989 through 2002, he was the Dean of Continuing Education and Community Services at Rocky Mountain College.  John is the project director of Montana’s College!NOW initiative which is being funded by the Lumina Education Foundation and he chairs the Montana University System Two-Year Education Council.  John has served on many boards and organizations in the Billings area including: Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Board of Directors for United Way, MSU Billings Foundation Board of Trustees, ZooMontana Board, Board of Trustees, Governor’s Workforce Grant Committee, and the Institute for Peace Studies at RMC.  John is also a board member for Montana PBS and the Governor’s IRR Committee.  During the last 22 years of John’s career, he has led the development of instructional programs at both RMC and the MSUB COT.   He is looking forward to engaging Montana’s two-year college leaders in his new job to further expand outreach to all Montanan’s through new partnerships, innovative learning design, and delivery modalities.

Sue Jones



Sue Jones, M.S.

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Ms. Susan K. Jones is the Director of Two-Year Mission Integration.  Her background includes a Master’s degree in Education with over 23 years of senior leadership experience in higher education.  Sue served as the Director of the Outreach Division and State Director for Elderhostel for UM Western.  She subsequently moved to Portland, OR to become the Area Director for the Western United States for Elderhostel, Inc., the world’s largest educational non-profit travel organization.  She later became Associate Vice President in charge of Elderhostel’s operations for all states west of the Mississippi.  Hailing from Dillon, Sue has served on a number of boards and committees including the Beaverhead Chamber of Commerce as a director and president.  Sue’s professional work has focused on lifelong learning with a special emphasis on education for older adults. 

Mindi Askelson


Mindi Federman Askelson, B.S.R.C, M.Ed.

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Mindi Federman Askelson is the Big Sky Pathways and Perkins Manager. Her background includes a Bachelor of Science in Resource Management from the University of Montana; a Master’s of Education from MSU Billings (formerly Eastern Montana College) and advanced graduate course work in Community College Leadership from Colorado State University. Mindi started her career in higher education at Rocky Mountain College as an admissions representative, Director of Personnel and Benefits as well as adjunct instructor in Speech. As a graduate assistant at MSU Billings, she taught Speech and served as a research assistant in the Department of Communications and Theatre. For the last 22 years, Mindi continued her career in higher education at Riverland Community College in Austin, MN. While at Riverland she taught Speech and Study Strategies then moved into Student Affairs administration serving first as the Director of Disability Services then the Director of Student Support Services. During her time in Student Affairs, Mindi founded the Student Success Center, Parent Center and Writing Center as well as managed several local, state and federal grants programs including Perkin and DOL Student Parent Initiative.  She finished her career at Riverland in Academic Affairs serving as the Director of Assessment, Placement and K-12 School Relations as well as Interim Academic Dean. Mindi is thrilled to be “home” again and is looking forward to working with all of the faculty and staff at the two year and tribal colleges around the state.


Erik Rose, B.A.

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Erik Rose is the Compliance and Workforce Data Analyst. As the Methods of Administration Coordinator, Erik acts as the state's lead civil rights compliance officer for postsecondary career and technical institutions. He is also the Workforce Information Officer for the Rev Up grant and provides general data analysis for the Montana University System. He grew up fishing and hunting in Seeley Lake and graduated from The University of Montana with a degree in Business Management. During his time as a university student, he was a Resident Assistant, ASUM Senator, Homecoming Ambassador, and was involved in many student groups and committees. Erik spent 4 years on the JET Program teaching English and promoting cultural awareness in Montana’s sister state of Kumamoto, Japan. He strives to assist students in achieving success at all levels and especially enjoys working with students from diverse backgrounds.

Katie Spalinger




Katie Spalinger, B.A.

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Katie Spalinger is the Program Coordinator for the Academic and Student Affairs and Two-Year and Community College Education Divisions.  She serves as the assistant to Deputy Commissioner John Cech and offers support to others in both divisions.  Katie is a Helena native who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Carroll College.  She brings a variety of professional experience and skills to this position.  Katie has been a public school teacher, a learning center administrator, and has held various roles in the financial field.  In addition to working with students of numerous ages in different educational settings, she has also been responsible for training adults in a corporate setting.  Katie is passionate about education and committed to promoting academic success.

Zach Hawkins


Zach Hawkins, B.A.

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Zach Hawkins is the director of the GEAR UP Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of low-income students enrolling in and completing a post-secondary credential. He brings a solid understanding of the program to the position as he previously served as the Eastern Schools Grant Manager. Prior to that, he served as the Upward Bound Associate Director/Coordinator with Montana Tech, serving high schools in Helena, Butte and Anaconda. Additionally, he worked with students from 13 western Montana high schools in the Upward Bound Summer Academy. Zach began his career teaching middle and high school social studies in Hays Lodgepole and Heart Butte.

Zach graduated from Troy High School and attended Montana State University, earning a degree in History and Government teaching. He has a unique array of life experiences which include attending a one room school for 8 years, volunteering with Americorps in the Montana Conservation Corps., working for the U.S. Forest Service for 15 summers and driving the world famous red jammer buses in Glacier National Park. Zach enjoys sharing a meal, telling stories, and getting to know new people. He enjoys the outdoors and is especially fond of camping, hunting and taking walks with his family. He wants you all to know that he will always have time to hear your thoughts and concerns and is dedicated to ensuring that GEAR UP is working in your community.

Jeannie Origbo


Jeannie Origbo, B.A.


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Jeannie Origbo is the Interim Director for the Montana Educational Talent Search grant program funded by the Department of Education. Jeannie brings a combined eight years of experience in both secondary and post-secondary education. She taught for six years on the Fort Belknap Indidan Reservation in Hays, MT. She has been a member of Two-Year and Community College Education Division since June 2011 at the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.




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Montana University System • Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
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