COVID-19: Roane State goes extra mile to help students

Holly Hanson, director of Roane State’s Cumberland County campus, has been loading food and supplies from the campus pantry into students’ vehicles as part of efforts by staff members to help meet nutritional needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ROCKWOOD – Roane State faculty and staff members are quietly working behind the scenes to make sure students are fed and have the technology necessary to do their class work online as the COVID-19 pandemic rages.

In every instance, precautions have been in place to comply with strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Food for several days has been delivered to students after it had been sanitized. Students have been loaned sanitized laptops and MiFis, also called Verizon Jetpacks, which are mobile devices that provide internet access.

In each case where students were helped, staff members practiced social distancing, even telling students to keep the pens they used to sign for the loaned technological gear.

Plans to meet students’ needs were put in place as part of Roane State’s move to close all campuses and make the transition to online-only learning formats.

“Roane State leadership recognized there was going to be a need for these items because of our extensive coverage area,” said Keri Phillips, the college’s IT chief and one of several senior staff members involved in the efforts.

Roane State Dean of Students Lisa Steffensen said as extended campus closures loomed, emails were sent out and messages were posted on social media “to let students know we were still here for them.”

“All of us on the Food Insecurity Task Force were concerned about what would happen with our students experiencing food insecurity during the closure,” Steffensen said.

As part of the efforts, Phillips said current laptops were reconfigured for student use, and Verizon Jetpacks were ordered as demand for those devices exploded nationally. 

Steffensen has been the overall point person for the efforts, according to Phillips, but others who have been involved include Holly Hanson, director of the college’s Cumberland County campus, and Roane State Help Desk Coordinator Elizabeth Hill.

Steffensen coordinated efforts to sanitize and package food for delivery to students in Oak Ridge along with those in Loudon and Roane counties. Provisions came from the college’s food pantry, located just inside the gymnasium building on the Roane County campus.

Pickup times were scheduled at the campus nearest to a student’s location, and the students stayed in their vehicles while Steffensen, wearing gloves, transferred packed food items into the trunks or truck beds of vehicles. She said she changed gloves after each transfer, making the donation of needed food “contact-less.”

On the Cumberland County campus, the internet connection devices have been checked out to faculty and staff as well as students, Hanson said, and several laptops have gone to students.

Hanson said she has worked with students to develop grocery lists. 

“I have the food ready for their entire family for curbside delivery when they arrive on campus by appointment,” Hanson said.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing in Tennessee, it’s uncertain how long deliveries of food and gear can continue,” Steffensen said. “But we hope to offer this service to students again near the end of the month.”

Students with food insecurity issues or in need of laptops or MiFis should contact Steffensen at They may also email for any immediate needs they are facing. The college set up this special contact amid the pandemic so that the entire campus community would have a way to reach out for help. Even if unable to assist directly, Roane State staff will work to connect those in need with local community resources that may be able to provide assistance.

Roane State 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

Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at

The Roane State Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) corporation governed by an independent Board of Directors and established to provide financial support for Roane State students and programs. The Foundation seeks to enhance community awareness of the college, to secure private contributions and bequests and to manage monies or properties given to the Foundation. For more information, visit or email

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