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February 19, 2014 | Tom Ballard

GUEST COLUMN: Roane State’s President committed to workforce education

Chris Whaley(EDITOR’S NOTE: We welcome guest columns from individuals who write about topics of interest to our readers. Our overall focus is on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, so the topical opportunities are fairly broad. The following guest column was submitted by Chris Whaley, President of Roane State Community College.)

Roane State’s role in economic development is to educate the workforce. How do we define education? A Roane State education could include teaching students to troubleshoot programmable logic controllers, operate 3-D printers, develop business plans or learn new languages. We cover the full spectrum of education, and we have high-quality instructors who blend expertise with real-world experience.

One of my primary purposes as President is to share how Roane State can bring its education resources into the economic development arena. My philosophy includes three guiding objectives.

1. Be proactive

2. Build partnerships

3. Promote a culture of learning  

Be proactive

Roane State has an excellent tradition of providing quality workforce training. When layoffs happen in a local company, for example, our team moves quickly to retrain affected employees. Healthcare employers have, for years, relied on Roane State for continuing education courses.

Meeting current needs is important. However, our workforce and economic development team, led by Vice President Teresa Duncan, also looks for how Roane State can proactively attract industries by offering relevant new programs. We now offer a one-year certificate in mechatronics — a program that teaches students how to maintain and repair high-tech automated machines — because more companies utilize automation. We provide courses in composite materials because more companies are interested in using composites.

Is there a program we could offer that might sway a major manufacturer to locate here? By serving as a partner with businesses, economic development officials and community leaders, Roane State’s workforce and economic development team can proactively develop programs that industrial prospects want.

Build partnerships

Partnerships are one of Roane State’s greatest strengths. Our Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC) is the result of partnerships. We offer courses in Clinton thanks to partnerships with civic and government leaders there. Our business incubator in Cumberland County was established after years of collaboration with local leaders.

With Roane State, businesses have access to a network of community colleges, universities and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. I am committed to finding the best solutions for workforce training, whether it’s a program Roane State offers directly or one in which we connect businesses to resources at our sister institutions. Teresa and her team know our capabilities and the capabilities of institutions in our system. They can make the right connections between needs and resources.

Our partnerships also allow us to find funding. Led by Director of Grants Development Deb Miller, Roane State has received $21.7 million in grants since 2007. Many of these grants fund workforce programs.

Partnerships with employers are also valuable because they connect the college to employees. Individuals who might never have thought of pursuing a college degree can start with training Roane State offers in their workplace. My hope is that employees’ first contact with Roane State leads them into a wider world of higher education.

Promote a culture of learning

Education has its most profound effect on economic development when it prepares students not only for the first day on the job, but for opportunities that will emerge in the future.

Again and again at Roane State, we see students who start in a class or two (often to achieve short-term work-related goals), then develop confidence in their academic abilities, which leads them to take more classes, which leads them to more academic success, which leads them to continue to broaden their education. We have alumni who completed graduate degrees because they started a cycle of learning at Roane State and never stopped.

Roane State, thanks to its workforce and economic development team and through its many partnerships, can train employees for specific jobs and help them take advantage of all that higher education has to offer.

To learn more, please contact Teresa Duncan at (865) 882-4648 and

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