Get to know Director of Undergraduate Studies Penny Riley

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Penny Riley, Maureen Westfall and Libby Brough

What are your main responsibilities as director of undergraduate studies?

PR: I make sure all the operations for the undergrad program go as smoothly as possible. Staffing, clinical placements, undergrad faculty, there’s a lot. I really enjoy helping faculty be good mentors to their students and successful in their roles.

What made you want to be a nurse?

Penny Riley (PR): I started working at a hospital while taking general-ed classes at Washtenaw Community College. I found I really liked what the nurses did and the contact with patients, so I switched to nursing.

What was your educational and career path?

PR: I got my ADN at Washtenaw, BSN at Eastern, master’s and Ph.D. here at UMSN. Through that time I worked at many hospitals around Ann Arbor in a variety of roles including in psych, OB, cardiology and home care. I started teaching here in 2003.

What are your ongoing goals?

PR: The biggest thing is helping the students succeed. Nursing is a stressful program and it’s never going to be easy because there is so much on the line. We’re the advocates for patients and we’re the ones they rely on day in and day out. I hope to make the program as stress free as possible, considering all of that.

What do you want students to understand about clinical placements?

PR: We have to rely on our clinical partners for their decisions before we can let the students know, and that often takes longer than the students would like. They always want to know where they’re going. We understand that, but it takes time to get it worked out operationally.

Is there something fun you do that the students might not know?

PR: Golf is my passion outside of here. I’ve only been golfing for six years. I was in my Ph.D. program and looking for something fun to balance the stress. A friend talked me into coming to a benefit and I found I really liked it.

You earned your Ph.D. after a lengthy period away from the classroom as a student. What’s your message to students who might want to pursue a graduate degree?

PR: Do it early so you have time to do what you want to do with your career. We used to tell students they should work before they get their graduate degree but that experience will come.

Any final messages for the students?

PR: I want the students to know we care about their education and we want them to succeed. We want them to have open communication with their instructors, their advisors, with me and [Assistant Director for Educational Excellence and Coordination] Libby Brough. They can make an appointment, send an email or stop by the office. Dr. Brough handles a lot of the clinical issues and coursework and I focus on a lot of the bigger academic issues, but there’s a lot of crossover. It might depend on the issue but they are always welcome to talk with any of us.