COOKEVILLE — For Women’s History Month Tennessee Tech is showcasing a few of the many women leaders at the university who have adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have found innovative ways to meet the needs of students whether it be on campus or online.
Katherine Williams has been the dean of students at Tech for a little over five years. She helps students navigate through their higher education experience by connecting them with appropriate resources, advice and support.
Williams said her biggest challenge this past year was the unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic presented new and difficult challenges for higher education with no precedent or experiences to rely upon for decision-making.
“For me, an ever-present question is how do we prioritize students’ safety while maintaining opportunities for student engagement and interaction? We’ve had to stretch our minds to think about student events and programs in a whole new way to face this challenge head-on,” Williams said.
“My favorite part of the job is helping students succeed in their pursuits at Tennessee Tech and ultimately seeing them walk across that graduation stage,” Williams said.
Michelle Huddleston is the assistant director of the Service Learning and Community Engagement. She has worked at Tech since 2018 and one of her roles is overseeing the food pantry. Due to COVID-19, Huddleston’s job became even more important.
Huddleston teamed up the Campus Food Pantry with Res Life, Health Services and Chartwells, to make sure no one forgoes a proper nutrition while they are in quarantine. They deliver meals to students in quarantine who cannot go to the grocery store. They built a system to make sure that those students had meals and snacks for their dorm rooms or their off-campus apartments, calling the program Meals on Wings.
“Our hope is students eat the same as any other day in order to keep up their strength in order to recover and be healthy. We care about their health just as much as their education,” Huddleston said.
Leigh Ann Ray has been the director of Campus Health Services at Tech for 10 years. She has witnessed the new challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the healthcare landscape. It has changed the way patient care is delivered and has changed a lot of the procedural aspects of healthcare delivery.
“Here at Tech, we have been fortunate to have extraordinary support from the administration,” Ray said. “They have provided the means to support Health Services to be able to provide same day health care and testing for sick individuals on campus. They have also ensured that we have adequate staff to provide the services necessary to take care of the campus community during a pandemic.”
Patricia Smith has been the Counseling Center director for 10 years.
This past year has seen an increase in students needing mental health services amid the global pandemic. The national trend has seen a 30/40% increase and Tech has seen a similar increase due to COVID-19. Smith and her staff changed the way they connected with the student to offer their services via Telehealth.
“I think making the rapid transition from in person counseling to virtual counseling was the hardest thing, but I have a great staff, and it went very well,” Smith said.
“I love developing new programs for the students that will help them cope with everyday stressors,” Smith said.
For more stories on women leaders and to see other extraordinary women at Tech past and present, visit www.tntech.edu/news.