Roane State celebrates, thanks USDA

Jim Tracy, left, director of the USDA’s Tennessee Rural Development Office, talks with Laura Hofman, director of Roane State’s chemical engineering technology program, and student Levi Trentham next to equipment purchased with Rural Development grant funding.

Rural Development grant provides chemical engineering technology training equipment

OAK RIDGE –Local employers saw the need for trained chemical engineering technologists, and Roane State is meeting it with the help of USDA Rural Development grant funds.

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Oak Ridge Branch Campus, officials showcased and demonstrated the training equipment and software obtained with the $67,900 grant and thanked USDA officials for the funding.

“Without these funds, this program would have taken much longer to get off the ground,” Roane State President Chris Whaley said of the chemical engineering technology program, which he called “one of our newest and most exciting programs.”

Students, instructors, college administrators, USDA Tennessee Rural Development office officials and area employers are shown in the flex lab in the Goff Building on Roane State’s Oak Ridge campus, where equipment purchased through a USDA Rural Development grant for the college’s new chemical engineering technology program was showcased.

Area employers ranging from CNS Y-12 and UCOR in Oak Ridge to Tate & Lyle in Loudon asked Roane State to create the Associate of Applied Sciences in Chemical Engineering Technology program.

Students in the program monitor, control and troubleshoot chemical processes. The Rural Development grant paid for training systems for pressure and analytical process controls, along with simulation software that gives students virtual views of manufacturing control rooms and field operations. Even walkie-talkies are used during training to add authenticity.

“There’s no telling how many students will use this training,” said Jim Tracy, state director of USDA’s Rural Development. Tracy said Rural Development provides more than $1 million in grants annually to community colleges and career and technical centers for similar initiatives.

Teresa Kovalcson talks with Jim Tracy, director of USDA’s Tennessee Rural Development Office, while Roane State President Chris Whaley listens in background. A USDA Rural Development grant paid for the chemical engineering technology equipment shown in foreground.

Roane State launched the new training program in Fall 2018 under the leadership of Laura Hofman, who has 35 years of engineering experience at nuclear plants and processing facilities.

The first seven students have either graduated or are expected to graduate by this summer. Anna Summers graduated in December and now works with UCOR at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “It really prepares you,” she said of Roane State’s program. “I really liked it.”

Levi Trentham is in his final semester in the program. 

“It’s a profession I can grow into and provide for my family,” Trentham said.

“He’d been out of school for 30 years when a friend told him about the program,” said Maurice McAllister, a Tennessee Reconnect student. “It was challenging at first, but now it’s not as bad. The part I like most is how it’s hands-on.”

Hofman said interest in the new degree is booming; so much so that both the Spring and Fall evening cohorts have the maximum 15 students, and a third cohort is being added during the daytime this fall.

With the feedback from local employers, “we see a continuing need for graduates of the chemical engineering technology program in the local area,” Hofman said.

Charlie Malarkey, with UCOR, the cleanup contractor for the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Reservation, said the contractor has already hired several graduates of the Roane State program.

For more information, contact Hofman at (865) 354-3000, extension 2220 or

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Crossville, Harriman, Huntsville, Jamestown, Knoxville, LaFollette, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge, Wartburg and Clinton.  

For more information, visit or call (865) 882-4554.

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

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