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Roane State Middle College graduate wins prestigious appointment

  • Patience Simes of LaFollette wears the chief petty officer uniform of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

  • Patience Simes, left, works on a circuit board with other students during mechatronics training in 2018 at Roane State’s Clinton Higher Education and Workforce Training Facility.

She’s a groundbreaking member of Roane State’s first Technical Middle College graduating class, and a congressman has awarded her his nomination for a prestigious appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Patience Simes, 18, soon begins a four-year stint at the federal service academy, which trains commissioned officers to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, transportation industry, or the Merchant Mariner service, while also earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Each year, hundreds of high school students apply for the coveted nominations. However, only two nominations are allocated for each of the five academies. Congressional appointments require the approval of the applicant’s congressman, and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann gave Simes his endorsement.

About 2,000 high school graduates go through the arduous process of applying to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. On average, only 200 are selected each year.

“We’re extremely proud of Patience,” said Gordon Williams, director of Roane State’s mechatronics program in Clinton. “We know that she will be the type of leader at the academy that she has shown to be as a pioneering member of our first Technical Middle College graduating class.”

Technical Middle College is a new component of Roane State’s innovative Middle College program, where high school students take two years of college courses at one of Roane State’s campuses in the mornings and return to their respective high schools to finish their curricula there in the afternoons. Those who complete the regimen graduate with both a Roane State Community College associate’s degree and a high school diploma.

The Technical Middle College program, launched two years ago, enables high school students to obtain the Associate’s Degree in Mechatronics, a branch of engineering that focuses on electrical and mechanical systems and also includes robotics.

Simes is the daughter of John and Cathy Simes of LaFollette and was homeschooled most of her life. She has been involved in the F.I.R.S.T. Robotics Competition for five years as a member of the Secret City Wildbots in Oak Ridge. A mentor, Dr. Mark Buckner, a dual enrollment instructor for Roane State, recommended that she apply for Technical Middle College.

“I’m very much a hands-on learner and I enjoyed the course, both the hands-on lab and the classroom setting,” Simes said of Roane State’s mechatronics program. One of her favorite instructors was Guilherme Garcia. “He explains things really well, and he’s very analytical,” Simes said.

“I would highly recommend it,” Simes said of Middle College. “It’s a fantastic challenge to take on. It’s difficult but it very much prepares you to carry the workload of a university, or in my case, the Academy.”

After years of homeschooling and its flexible timetable, Simes said Technical Middle College “gave me a regimented schedule” which she said was invaluable as she makes the transition to the Merchant Marine Academy. Patience does not plan to become a Merchant Mariner, as they are not part of the military, but rather accept her commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

Simes has always had a love of the sea. “The intrigue of it fascinated me,” she said. She’s participated in numerous U.S. Naval Sea Cadet training programs and has advanced through the ranks of the U.S. Navy-sponsored youth organization to become the first, and currently only, female Chief Petty Officer in Tennessee.

Her most memorable adventure was sailing the Atlantic, at 16, on the USCG Barque Eagle. America’s Tall Ship, as it is commonly known, is used to train Coast Guard officers.

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