By Bob Fowler Roane State staff writer
Erin “Tisha” Valdez, a school bus driver in Oak Ridge, enjoys one Roane State professor’s class so much she asked her employer for two afternoons off each week so she could attend.
The company, First Student, was short on drivers but agreed, enabling Valdez to take Dr. Isabel Benitez-Ramirez’s Anatomy and Physiology II class this semester. “She is amazing,” Valdez said of Benitez-Ramirez.
Sticking with Benitez-Ramirez after taking the initial Anatomy and Physiology class with her “is very important to me,” said Valdez. “I love her teaching style.”
“Since the beginning of her time as my student, she has shown great interest in learning,” Benitez-Ramirez said of Valdez. “She always participates in classes and even helps some of her classmates to understand the material. She is one of the best students in my classes.”
A native Oak Ridger, Valdez is taking preparatory classes at Roane State’s Oak Ridge Branch Campus and plans to enroll in the community college’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program in August 2022.
“It’s a long timeline,” she acknowledges, but Valdez, the mother of four, has to balance work with studies and being a breadwinner as well as a mom. She’s 43 and is a Tennessee Reconnect student, enabling her to go to the community college tuition-free.
Valdez has overcome personal tragedies in pursuing her education. A friend told her about the community college’s nursing program in 2015 and applied that year. But she was struggling then, trying to cope with the deaths of two family members. “It wasn’t the right time,” she said.
She enrolled in January 2020, but tragedy intervened a month later. Her husband, Julio Valdez, was seriously injured in a vehicle accident, sidelining him from his maintenance job for three months. “It threw everybody for a loop,” Valdez said.
That’s when Roane State Success Coach Kimberly Scarbrough proved invaluable. “She communicated with my teachers and let me know what was going on,” Valdez said. “She’s a terrific coach, and I feel she cares about me as a person.”
Valdez gives high marks to other Roane State staff and faculty, including Anna Davis, now a Learning Center staff member who taught Valdez’s math support class at the time, and Professor Don Windham, who teaches Lifespan Development classes. “She was an excellent student,” he said.
Overall, Roane State has been a “positive experience,” Valdez said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot since going there.”
Eligible adults can attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at www.roanestate.edu/reconnect. Roane State Community College is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs, and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge. For more information, visit www.roanestate.edu or call (865) 882-4554.