When Chris Brennan started at Middle Tennessee State University in 1992, he wasn’t sure where life would take him next. Now, a 29-year veteran of the Metro Nashville Police Department, he is finally finishing what he started and graduating with his bachelor’s degree in integrated studies this August.
During his first stint at MTSU, Brennan majored in criminal justice and enjoyed his classes, but saw an opportunity with MNPD when they started a recruiting program in the summer of 1993. He interned there but had to enroll at Tennessee State University in order to join the program. He earned enough college credits to enter the police academy. Upon completing the academy, the first one in the program at this point, he joined the department full time in 1996.
“I always planned on going back and finishing my degree,” said Brennan, a Midstate native. “But then I got married and had a kid…and then another.”
As his family grew, so did his career. Brennan was a patrol officer for seven years until 2001. Over the next nine years, he served on the department’s crime scene unit and became a detective. Since 2010, he’s been assigned to the Specialized Investigations Division tech unit where he utilizes technology to monitor cameras, conduct surveillance, forensically process digital evidence, and support other investigative teams.
Because he’s been at the department for nearly 30 years and has worn different hats, Brennan has completed many different types of trainings and certifications. That’s given him a leg up on finishing his degree, thanks to MTSU’s prior learning assessment.
Prior Learning Assessment through University College allows working adults to earn college credit for learning acquired from work and training. In the PLA course, students create a detailed portfolio of their professional competencies, training and certifications, and other experiential learning. Students can potentially earn up to two years of college credit from their prior learning.
Because of all that experience, Brennan was able to earn almost 40 hours of college credit from prior learning assessment.
“I don’t know if I ever would have finished if not for the PLA,” Brennan said. “Cathy Delametter and the PLA program were immensely helpful. Under her direction I was able to identify the points in my career that would maximize my credit.”
Prior Learning Assessment is something leadership within MNPD hopes more will take advantage of.
“This is such a good way for members of our department to earn their degree and strengthen their professional development,” said Assistant Chief of Police Dwayne T. Greene. “So many of our people have valuable experience they can use to finish their degrees quickly, and I look forward to seeing more people graduate from MTSU just like Chris.”
‘MTSU was the right place for me’
Because of his prior credits at MTSU and TSU and the credits from Prior Learning Assessment, Brennan only had to take a handful of classes to finish his degree.
“I’m glad I finally did it,” Brennan said from his desk inside an MNPD building. “MTSU was the right place for me, and it came at the right time too.”
When the pandemic was starting in 2020, Brennan had a little more time on his hands since he was traveling less than usual for conferences and trainings. He decided to take some online courses at a different university, but then saw an email from one of the assistant chiefs with the department talking about a new public safety program at MTSU.
“I saw the email on a Wednesday, and we had to have all our paperwork in by the end of that week. Luckily, my personnel file with the department was up to date,” Brennan said.
Once he was enrolled in the few classes he needed, Brennan really embraced the opportunity to learn. One of his favorite classes was a history course focusing on pre-Civil War America. He had to take a trip to Boston for work and was recalling things he learned in his class while on the streets of one of America’s oldest cities.
“It was just so cool being able to take what I learned in an online class and experience it for real,” Brennan said. “I think my wife was impressed with how much I learned.”
Brennan had little experience with online courses before restarting his college career. He wasn’t nervous about the format, but he was impressed with how hands-on the professors were with the classes.
“I was so surprised to see how much the MTSU professors interacted in our discussions,” Brennan, now 49, said. “I had taken some other online classes at a different university, and it was nothing like the MTSU courses. Everyone was really dialed in, and I think we learned a lot from one another.”
Now that he is about to graduate, he is encouraging others within the department to finish their degrees too.
“Since we learned about this partnership with MTSU and the department, I think I am lucky enough to be the first one to graduate,” Brennan said. “I know there will be more of us coming, and if I can share my experience with them or encourage them to continue their education, I will definitely be doing just that.”
To learn more about prior learning assessment or finishing your degree at MTSU you can visit MTSU.edu/finishnow.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)