Northern Wyoming Higher Ed's New Leader Wants To Continue Colleges' Path

Sep 13, 2019

Credit Northern Wyoming Community College District

This summer, Walter Tribley took over as the president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. Tribley has 20 years of experience in higher education. Most recently, he was the president of Monterey Peninsula College in California. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler sat down with Tribley at Sheridan College to talk about his goals as he begins his new position.

Walter Trimbley: Goal number one is to learn about our communities and our colleges. So that is primarily a faculty-driven event, and certainly I need to hear from the communities. It will always be a goal, but a real intense focus on listening and learning about our district. We will always have the goal to maintain our fiscal solvency and meet our budget targets. We have some projects that are ongoing, some construction projects that we need to see through and find funding for, in some cases, like our health science building, here on this campus. We are very strongly engaged in Wyoming Works. And we need to make sure that we get that off the ground and have that be successful for our non-traditional students that need us to retool and get back down on the job market. That's something that our legislature paved the way for us last year. We need to make good on that and hit the ground running there. Certainly [we] need to work very closely with our faculty on the opportunities we have potentially to offer four-year degrees, that work will be ongoing. There's always things to work on. But as a student of higher education, I could say this is a really good district, and I intend to keep that keep that legacy going.

Catherine Wheeler: So you talked about the four-year degrees. I think, after the legislative session, people were really interested in that opportunity. How close is the district coming to offering some of those four-year applied science degrees?

WT: This state is really going to be served well by having greater access to four-year degrees. So there are no degrees sitting here on the table. This is something we have to and must and will be better when we work with our faculty. You know what a degree is, and how and what the components of a degree are, the courses and the makeup of the degree and the experience, that's uniquely a faculty-driven function. We're going to be working with them. There would be no sooner than next fall. That's a rough timeline for our colleges.

CW: Obviously, with coal and everything that's going on recently, especially in Gillette, economic diversification is becoming more and more important and more and more of a focus, not only with communities but also with the legislature. And so how do you envision the colleges' role in that, especially in this area where things like energy and manufacturing are really important to the economies?

WT: Community colleges play a vital role and not just philosophically, but with many, many cases that would be offered as evidence, they play a vital role in attracting a business to your community. When it business places its operations in a state they need to see if it's going to be a favorable small business economy. Is the tax structure going to be favorable to business? And how are we going to get a steady stream of highly educated trained employees? And your local community college does that. From your frontline office staff or taking a look at our Gillette College or here at Sheridan College, all the career and technical education programs we have machine tooling, diesel welding and many, many others businesses. So you would be placing your business here in a state that has a favorable tax structure. It has a wonderful opportunity for you to hire well-trained employees. And flexible community colleges that can if the need is great enough tailor educational programs to make sure that your unique workforce is trained. If there's a special skill and there's enough people that need it, we can adapt and adjust. And that's one real strength of the community college system is that we can change and adapt faster than most higher education institutions. And we do. A higher education is has shown to be very valuable, particularly in an uncertain economy. Those folks that have more education under their belt tend to do better when the economy takes a turn in a challenging direction So I'm really excited actually about the opportunity for community colleges to be offering those four year degrees if we come up on, you know, ones that our faculty want, and recommend, and we move forward with those. Those would be really helpful. I think that the state in general.

CW: Dr. Walter Tribley is the new president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. Thank you for your time today.

WT: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this interview.