There were actually two stars at Roane State Community College on Wednesday.
One was U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. She was there to celebrate the recent announcement of a $12.5 million grant to a group led by Roane State that will use the money to train students for health care careers and help them graduate.
The other star was Sunbright resident Loretta Starnes. She was once a pregnant teenage high school dropout who became a Roane State graduate and won a top student honor—the 2012 Roane State President’s Award.
Starnes is now a certified occupational therapy assistant at Jefferson County Nursing Home in Dandridge, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
The tale of her unlikely journey inspired others, including Solis, during a Wednesday morning tour of Roane State’s Oak Ridge branch campus.
Solis said community colleges play a pivotal role in creating a skilled workforce in the United States. They’re accessible, local, and affordable, she said.
The grant to the Roane State-led group is called Rx-Tennessee, and it was announced Sept. 19. It will help all 13 Tennessee Board of Regents community colleges and all 27 Tennessee Technology Centers.
Solis’ tour at Roane State included stops in an occupational therapy assistance program and a nursing lab, among other rooms, and short chats with a dozen or so students. The goal was to highlight federal investments in health care job training.
“This is a growing field,” Solis said. “You’re going to see more opportunities.”
More information will be added later.