UPPER CUMBERLAND – It was daunting and a bit scary at first, Sherri Fowler said, when she enrolled at Roane State through the Tennessee Reconnect program in 2018. Fowler hadn’t been in school for 30 years, had never used a computer and didn’t know how to type.
Now, she’s well on her way to an associate degree. The Clinton area native has also become an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Reconnect program and has convinced others to enroll at Roane State.
Fowler has been a hair stylist in Oak Ridge since soon after graduating from Clinton High School in 1990. While she said she still enjoys her job, being on her feet all day was becoming more difficult, especially after developing deep vein thrombosis in one leg. That issue resolved itself, but only after daily shots of blood-thinning medication for 10 months.
The episode renewed her interest in education. “I’d always wanted to go back to school,” she said. Then, fate intervened. A client at the hair salon in 2018 told her about “a wonderful program called Tennessee Reconnect that was coming, and that I should be on the lookout.”
Tennessee Reconnect enables eligible adult students to go to community colleges tuition-free. She decided to enroll at Roane State but admits she was nervous about it.
Those concerns vanished after meeting with Success Coach Jordan Huettel. Roane State’s success coaches help new students negotiate the challenges that can arise in the first year of college.
“He was great,” Fowler said of Huettel. He recommended that she take learning support classes to ease back into studies while also taking regular classes.
Fowler said the Learning Center at Roane State’s Oak Ridge Branch Campus “is huge in my success. I’d never used a computer before. I had to learn everything. The Learning Center staff members were very, very helpful,” she said.
Fowler said she’s enjoyed all of the classes she’s taken and standout educators include Assistant Professor Mike Farmer, the teacher for an accounting class. “He’s an amazing, great teacher who is good at explaining things.”
David Rath was the teacher for a business management course and he was “inspiring,” Fowler said. She said she’s looking forward to taking an online marketing course from him this spring in a seven-week, accelerated course.
The switch to online learning as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold was difficult, Fowler says, but she persisted. She said her music teacher, Rudolph Nemeth, “was so encouraging when that transition happened.” Learning through Zoom technology was difficult at first, she said. “You get depressed and scared, but he (Nemeth) would be at perfect peace.”
Fowler’s busy schedule and her job have meant she can only take a couple of classes at a time, but she thinks she will be able to graduate in 2022.
Overall, she said, “Roane State is very well run and really professional. They are 100% for student success, but you can’t get help if you don’t ask for it.”
She said after graduation, she’ll likely apply for administrative positions to gain experience in the business world. She’s the mother of two sons; Cameron Moore, 22, and 10-year-old Brendan. Her husband, Jeff Fowler, works at DENSO Manufacturing.
For more information on how eligible adults can attend Roane State tuition-free with the Tennessee Reconnect grant, visit roanestate.edu/reconnect.
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 www.roanestate.edu or call (865) 882-4554.