By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
Losing a job and the pandemic hitting in March 2020 were catalysts for Laura Looney enrolling in Roane State. Now she’s got her associate degree in paralegal studies, having graduated with highest honors in May 2022.
“I was really scared to get back in school, but it has been a wonderful experience,” Looney said. “I’m thoroughly impressed with Roane State.”
“I’ve been given the opportunity to feel like a student again,” said Looney, 37, who’s also the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 7.
Looney utilized the Tennessee Reconnect program, which enables adults who have not previously earned an associate or baccalaureate degree to return to higher education and enroll in college tuition-free.
Looney moved to Crossville in 2015 from Austin, Texas. “My mother, who lives in Crossville, said I should visit.”
She stayed, impressed with the local library, Cumberland County Playhouse and the number of churches in Crossville, the county seat of Cumberland County.
Looney held a variety of jobs after moving. One part-time position was at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Oak Ridge, which is sponsored in part by Roane State. “I really liked that job and was often able to work remotely.”
Looney said a congregant at Crossville’s First United Methodist Church recommended enrolling in Roane State, and a former fiancé suggested studying to become a paralegal.
She enrolled in the fall of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, which prompted the transition to online learning. “I absolutely loved remote learning,” Looney said of the college’s conversion to virtual education. It enabled her to be with her young sons.
This past semester marked the first time she has had an in-person class, and it was at the college’s campus in Roane County. “With gas prices, it’s killing me,” she said of the drive from Crossville to Harriman.
When circumstances grew dire, Roane State Foundation helped by paying her mortgage for a month through the Pay-it-Forward: Emergency Aid Program. “I’m so grateful for Roane State’s help,” Looney said. Dr. Lisa Steffensen, dean of students, told her how to obtain temporary assistance with her mortgage.
Standout educators have included adjunct Storm Beeler, whom Looney described as “very straightforward. He doesn’t beat around the bush.”
Looney said she described her experiences at the community college during a talk she made to the Roane State President’s Cabinet. “I told President Whaley I wished it was a four-year school.”
Roane State has systems in place to assist students with basic needs, such as food, housing and technology. Details on how to get help can be found online at roanestate.edu/need.
Additionally, financial assistance for students is available through the non-profit Roane State Foundation. Information on aid programs and ways to support these efforts are available at roanestate.edu/foundation.
For more information on the Paralegal Studies program, visit roanestate.edu/paralegal.