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 Two-Year and Community College Education 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 subsquently 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. 



Katie Spalinger

Katie Spalinger, B.A.

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Katie Spalinger is the Administrative Associate for the Two-Year and Community College Education Division.  She serves as the assistant to Deputy Commissioner John Cech and offers support to others in the division.  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 additional 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.

Grant Funded Contract Member


Lyle Courtnage, Ed. D (Rigorous Programs of Study)
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Lyle Courtnage brings a combination of experience from industry and education to the RPOS project. Most recently Courtnage managed the implementation of Big Sky Pathways at City College at MSU Billings well as co-directing the state wide Tech Prep Initiative. Earlier education experience includes business faculty assignments at Rocky Mountain College and MSU Great Falls plus managing adult degree completion programs and FIPSE/NSF grants for RMC. Courtnage’s management experience ranges from holding Fortune 100 marketing positions to owning and operating radio and television stations as well as a tax accounting business. Hobbies include sea kayak touring and working with Montana’s Trout Unlimited state council. Courtnage received his doctorate from MSU Bozeman, a MBA from the Wharton School, and a BS in accounting from Rocky Mountain College.

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Montana University System • Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
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