The next level of education: Meet Pamela Tranby

Published 3:24 pm Friday, May 16, 2014

By Trey Mewes, Austin Daily Herald

Pamela Tranby has been busy.

She’s no stranger to hard work at Riverland Community College. The longtime-biology instructor was a vice president at Riverland from 1998 to 2001, and she has always stepped up to help students achieve their goals, from students looking to satisfy general education credits to medical students who needed a foundation for their future classes.

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Tranby is helping to build a foundation for future medical students this year. Ever since she stepped into the role as interim dean for allied health last August, she has helped Riverland become a new kind of community college: She’s helping its students get bachelor’s degrees.

Riverland is part of a growing wave of community colleges across the nation that partner with four-year colleges and universities to offer bachelor’s degree programs for students. For rural centers like Albert Lea, it pays to be able to pursue a four-year degree close to home. Students who want to get further certification in fields like nursing, while others interested in education, business and someday even engineering and agriculture can achieve their undergraduate dreams without ever leaving the area of Freeborn and Mower counties. It’s a revolutionary approach to keeping costs down while keeping people in the area, and an approach Riverland is pouring resources into to watch it pay off.

“You know, it’s really a neat thing,” Tranby said. “Our community providers are really asking us for those bachelor-prepared students, and so we want to be able to provide as many as we can.”


Classroom change

Riverland’s nursing program has led the way in getting a four-year degree. As far back as 2011, Riverland officials were in talks with Winona State University to partner and offer a bachelor’s degree program. Riverland was known in the area for its medical-related associate degrees, especially its nursing and radiography programs. At the same time, college instructors were hearing from students and community officials how the health care industry was looking for more nurses with bachelor’s degrees.

The end result was the first of Riverland’s “2+2” programs, which allowed students with associate degrees in nursing to go to Riverland for classes taught by Winona State instructors. Students could get bachelor’s degrees without traveling large distances for classes.

“With Winona, students who already have their two-year degree can come back and finish it,” said Mary Davenport, vice president of academic and student affairs at Riverland.

Davenport has been a large proponent of 2+2. She has worked on building partnerships for them over the years, and she is part of the team looking to expand Riverland’s opportunities to offer a pathway to bachelor’s degrees for students. She has heard from many students going back to school for further training that distance is one of the biggest barriers to getting those degrees.

“They have families, they have jobs, they can’t pick up and go to Mankato or Winona or the Cities,” she said.

From there, Riverland has secured and built even more partnerships with colleges. Riverland’s business program graduates can go to Cardinal Stritch University to build on their classes into a bachelor’s degree in management. And last fall, Riverland, Winona and Austin Public Schools announced a huge opportunity for education students: A 2+2 program that would include student teaching placements at Sumner Elementary School.

Students would earn an associate degree in elementary education that would specifically tie into Winona’s education programs. They’ll finish the last two years with classes at Sumner, where students would also do their practicums. The program will start small, with as many as 25 students ready for school next fall.

“It’s seamless,” Davenport said.

Perhaps the biggest change to Riverland education was announced in February: Riverland, along with seven other community colleges, is offering a four-year bachelor’s degree program through Metropolitan State University.

Called the Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education, or MANE, the program will have area students attend Riverland for a Metro State-accredited nursing program for all four years. In effect, Riverland is offering a bachelor’s degree instead of a seamless path to a bachelor’s degree.

“Students will actually be able to start a bachelor’s program here,” Tranby said. “It will be entirely at Riverland. They will be able to stay at our campus, our community.”

Of course, students can theoretically drop out to earn an associate degree halfway through the MANE program. But the program generated enormous interest even before it was formally announced: Riverland is accepting 40 to 50 applications for the program’s start in fall 2014, and more than 100 students showed interest in the first weeks of February.


Age: 62

Hometown: Aberdeen, S.D.

Fun fact: Tranby loves sailing. She got involved in sailing in her 20s and sailed in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia last summer. She also received her doctorate in human resources development and educational leadership from Colorado University in 2012.

More info: Tranby is one of several leaders at Riverland Community College transforming the way local students can earn associate and bachelor’s degrees.