Taking a look back at the roots of Riverland

Published 9:36 am Friday, September 4, 2015

Guest Column by Adenuga Atewologun

We are just days into another academic year at Riverland Community College. This is always an exciting time as we welcome back our excellent faculty and meet new students ready to start one of our best in class programs.

Adenuga Atewologun

Adenuga Atewologun

On Thursday we celebrated our official 75th anniversary. The following excerpt taken from Academic Dean Ruben Meland’s document titled Austin Junior College — Nine Years of Community Service states, “Austin Junior College opened its doors of opportunity to the youth of this community on Sept. 3, 1940.” The enrollment the first year was comprised of 138 freshmen, served by a faculty of five full-time and four part-time instructors.”

Email newsletter signup

The face of Riverland has changed dramatically since that day 75 years ago and so has its name. Originally Austin Junior College and located on the third floor of Austin High School, the college moved to the current campus location in Austin in 1966, and the name changed for the first time to Austin State Junior College. That location would eventually change its name again to Austin Community College (1973 to 1996).

Simultaneously, the technical colleges in Austin and Albert Lea would be going through similar name changes before merging together with Austin Community College into what we now call Riverland Community College. Austin’s technical college would see several different names and partnerships as well. Starting as Austin Area Vo-Tech Institute (1972 to 1987) Austin Area Vo-Tech (1983 to 1984), Austin Technical Institute (1987 to 1990), Austin Technical College (1990 to 1991), Minnesota Riverland Technical College (1991 to 1996).

In Albert Lea, there was Albert Lea Area Vocational Technical Institute (1968 to 1984), Albert Lea Technical Institute (1984 to 1989), Albert Lea Technical College (1989 to 1991), Albert Lea/Mankato Technical College (1991) and South Central Technical College (1991 to 1996).

In Owatonna, a memo dated March 3, 1998, from Tim McManimon, Owatonna community leader, to John Gedker, college president, states, “Riverland Community College has served the Owatonna area for the past 13 years, primarily in the area of customized training for business and industry. It is the Owatonna community vision to create a seamless link between education, work and the community.”

A memorandum from John Gedker, college president, dated Nov. 7, 1996, states, “Riverland Community College was established on July 1, 1996. Austin Community College …Riverland Technical College — Austin … and Owatonna campuses [sic] and South Central Technical College — Albert Lea … campuses merged together to form Riverland Community College.”

The college’s growth, the mergers and the name changes continuously challenge us to find and honor our alumni. Many times our alumni fail to realize that Riverland is their alma mater. Yet, our alumni remain a rich part of our history who have served our region’s workforce and economic growth for generations.

The name changes do not begin to illustrate the many changes Riverland has seen.

The 138 students enrolled at Riverland has grown to 4,412 credit-based students in 2015. Those nine faculty teaching 15 programs on the third floor of Austin High School has expanded to 190 faculty offering more than 50 program choices and services at our three campuses and globally online. Almost 60 percent of our students take courses part time and expand the traditional age to all ages. Many attend our college while maintaining a full-time job and/or raising a family. Of all students, 17 percent are students of color and more than 40 percent are taking online classes or programs.

Another way we have grown is re-establishing that original connection to the high schools. The Post-Secondary Enrollment Option and concurrent course offering (college in the high school) allows students to take college courses while still attending high school. Last May, 17 of our 518 graduates were graduating with an associate’s degree and their high school diploma simultaneously.

We work closely with our communities, area businesses, industries, the high schools and with universities to continue that growth well into the future. We strive to provide educational opportunities that achieves our vision to build best in class programs through excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.

We ask each of you to celebrate all you have done to create today’s Riverland. You put the community in Riverland Community College. Riverland’s heart beats with its continued dedication “to our students, our mission and our communities.”


Adenuga Atewologun, Riverland Community College president, holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Ife in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and a master’s and a doctorate in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.