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University College’s flexibility helps Ascend exec...

University College’s flexibility helps Ascend executive move quickly toward degrees

Classes with adult learners are diverse in many different ways. A 27-year-old student could be sitting beside someone in their 60s. Someone getting ready to graduate could be sitting next to someone in their first college course.

Keri Walker enrolled in her first college course at age 40, taking online classes at Motlow State Community College. Now, just two years later she has her associate degree and is on track to graduate this spring with her bachelor’s in integrated studies and a concentration in applied leadership through University College.

MTSU student and adult learner Keri Walker of Tullahoma, Tenn., will graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree in integrated studies. The Ascend Federal Credit Union executive was able quickly to earn her associate and bachelor’s while maintaining her full-time job thanks to University College’s Prior Learning Assessment and flexible courses for working adults. (Submitted photo)

MTSU student and adult learner Keri Walker of Tullahoma, Tenn., will graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree in integrated studies. The Ascend Federal Credit Union executive was able quickly to earn her associate and bachelor’s while maintaining her full-time job thanks to University College’s Prior Learning Assessment and flexible courses for working adults. (Submitted photo)

It’s no small feat for anyone, but especially someone like Walker who has two teenage children at home and a full-time job at Ascend Federal Credit Union where she is the assistant vice president of talent acquisition.

Walker had been interested in attending college for a while, but two separate visits from MTSU personnel pushed her over the edge. First was retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives. Huber spoke at a luncheon in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and really inspired Walker.

“General Huber’s visit is what put MTSU on the map for me,” she said.

Danielle Fowler, recruitment coordinator, University College

Danielle Fowler

Keith M. Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives

Keith M. Huber

Soon after that, Danielle Fowler, coordinator of Recruitment and corporate outreach in University College, made a visit to the Ascend company picnic — and Walker took that as a sign.

“I was nervous — starting school at 40 with no credits,” Walker said. “It was intimidating.”

Walker, who lives and works in Tullahoma, knew from the beginning she was going to take the Prior Learning Assessment class at MTSU. Knowing that, she only took her core classes at Motlow State. It paid off, too, with Walker earning 36 elective credit hours from the PLA course this past spring.

With Prior Learning Assessment, adult students are able to convert their prior work and training and certifications into college credit and use up to 60 credits toward electives. Students do all of this for the cost and time of a three-hour course.

With a unique agreement between Motlow State and MTSU, a student can dual enroll at the institutions and start the applied leadership program at MTSU while still taking classes at Motlow State.

“My goal when I started the PLA course was to get the 16 elective credits I needed for my associate degree,” Walker said. “I came out with 36, so I was very happy.

“Because of the PLA class I am going to be able to go to Motlow and MTSU and get both my bachelor’s and associate degree in about three years,” she said. “The PLA class is life-changing.”

Online courses ‘a great experience’

Every class Walker has taken has been online, something that could seem a little daunting for adult students. Because of COVID-19, even her first scheduled face-to-face course was moved to online.

“My class was the first time these professors had to lead this course over Zoom and we had almost 20 people in there,” she said. “It was just phenomenal. I am still in touch with several of the people I was in class with.”

Walker said it was fantastic to still connect with people even though her work schedule has not allowed her to attend in-person classes. The class, called an intensive, met over the course of two weekends for several hours a day.

“It was intense. It’s called that for a reason,” Walker said, talking about the six and seven-hour class periods. “It was a long time to be in class, but they (Dr. Diana Raffo and Dr. Leigh Anne Clark) made it to where it was not grueling. It was interesting, they kept our attention, and moved us around to different small groups to work through things.

“By the time it was over, I was kind of sad because it was such a great experience.”

Dr. Deana Raffo

Dr. Leigh Anne Clark, Department of Management, Jones College of Business

Dr. Leigh Anne Clark

The Applied Leadership program is designed with working adults in mind, so there’s usually always something students can take back to work and apply right away. Walker said she has been doing that since her very first course.

“Everything I am learning in the program is tangible,” she said. “I’m in a leadership role, and I had to figure out what kind of leader I wanted to be. That most recent intensive really showed me how I want to lead my employees and also others at Ascend.”

It’s been important for Walker to not only earn her degree but to also excel academically. She’s done that, maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA, something she says would not be possible without her husband and her family cheering her on and supporting her.

“They understand that when I get home I need to do schoolwork or read,” she said. “I couldn’t do these things without their support.”

Walker’s daughter is also a senior, albeit in high school, so she is very excited to graduate “with” her daughter this spring. With her college degree in hand at long last, she’ll be able to help her daughter prepare for her own collegiate journey — even if she takes a path that’s a little more traditional than her own.

If you’re interested in finishing your degree or starting your college journey like Walker, visit MTSU.edu/FinishNow.MTSU will also be visiting the Tullahoma area in the spring for a Finish Your Degree event. Look for more information on that event in the coming weeks.

— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)


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