PEORIA — Methodist College will have a new leader at the end of next month.

James R. Dire has been hired as the school's next chancellor, effective July 30, the school's board of directors said in a news release.

Dire, a Missouri native, has most recently worked as vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Hawaii's Kaua'i Community College.

"My parents and grandparents were all born and raised in Illinois, so I am very much looking forward to returning to my Midwest roots to apply all my experiences in higher education to lead Methodist College in its next phase of growth and community service," Dire said in a prepared statement.

Methodist is affiliated with UnityPoint Health and its curriculum focuses mainly on nursing, health sciences and human services.

Dire is no stranger to the sciences, with bachelor's degrees in chemistry, physics and mathematics from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a master's in physics and electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida, and master's and doctoral degrees in earth and planetary science from The John's Hopkins University.

He was a nuclear engineer in the Navy and taught physics at the Naval Academy and physics and engineering at the Coast Guard Academy.

"Dr. Dire is an experienced higher education leader and will bring a vision for Methodist College that will further our mission of being a premier college of choice in health care and human services education," said Darrin Autry, who headed the search committee and chairs the board of directors, in a prepared statement.

He's also an amateur astronomer.

"After starting a paper route at age 12, one of my first purchases was a 60 mm refractor," he says on his website devoted to the hobby. "The telescope, like a lot of those sold today in department and discount stores, had terrible optics and a flimsy mount. But I was able to get good views of lunar craters, follow the moons of Jupiter, and see Saturn's rings. I was hooked."

Dire succeeds Kimberly Johnston, who left the chancellor position in May 2017. Deborah Garrison will continue to serve as interim chancellor until Dire begins work.

He will be joined in his move to Peoria by his wife, Sherry Lynn, and two daughters.

Chris Kaergard can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.