Higher-ed board names Williston State alum as college’s next president

Hirning has local ties to Williston and North Dakota. He graduated from Williston State (formerly UND-Williston) with an associate degree. He also obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees at Minot State.

Hirning Photo.jpg
Bernell Hirning
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WILLISTON, N.D. – The State Board of Higher Education has named Bernell Hirning as the next president of Williston State College.

Board members interviewed two finalists at their meeting Thursday, April 29, on the Williston State campus. A total of 29 applications were received for the position. This past month, six candidates each spent time visiting campus and in public forums, meeting with students, faculty and staff, and interviewing with the presidential search committee. The committee then narrowed the field to four finalists on April 9. Two of the finalists were later selected for positions at other campuses.

Hirning will assume office following the retirement of John Miller in June. His start date will be July 1.

“Faculty, staff, students and community will be a part of every major decision at Williston State College,” Hirning said during the interview. “I’m truly impressed by every stitch of this campus and community that I saw, and it honestly felt like home just as much as it did 30 years ago. There are a lot of opportunities in front of us and I’m excited to get started.”

Co-chairing the WSC Presidential Search Committee were Kathleen Neset, State Board of Higher Education member, and Kim Wray, WSC vice president for academic affairs and instruction.


“Dr. Hirning embodies the talents and experience that Williston State College has come to expect from its leadership,” Neset said in a news release. “We are confident that Dr. Hirning is the right person for this role, and his experience exemplifies the mission and vision of this campus and community.”

Hirning has local ties to Williston and North Dakota. He graduated from Williston State (formerly UND-Williston) with an associate degree. He obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees at Minot State.

He was born, raised and educated in southwestern North Dakota, graduating from Mott Lincoln High School. He has two daughters and six grandsons.

Hirning has spent more than 30 years of his career in education, starting as a business teacher and basketball coach at Turtle Lake-Mercer High School in Turtle Lake, N.D.

After receiving his master's degree from Minot State, he was hired for a position with Mayville State as an assistant professor in business, where he focused on the university’s project management curriculum. He also helped develop a project management training program for North Dakota government employees. The program was delivered in person, online and via North Dakota’s Interactive Television Network. The online version was the first online course offered in Mayville State’s history, according to the news release.

In 2002, Hirning moved to California to begin an 18-year career in higher education administration. He served as associate regional dean and regional associate vice president for National University, the second largest private, nonprofit university in California. He started as a lead campus administrator for the Redding Campus in northern California. He also has experience at campuses in central California.

During Hirning’s tenure at National University, he developed more than 50 cohort partnerships by collaborating with city and county governments, school districts, businesses and community colleges, allowing entities to grow and develop their own talent, the press release said.

Hirning also served on a number of external governing boards and executive committees during his time in California.

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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