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Father on track to finish degree as daughter enrol...

Father on track to finish degree as daughter enrolls in first class at MTSU

What comes to mind when you think of a college student? Many might picture a 20-year-old discovering who they are and exactly what they’ll be doing after graduation.

While that may seem to be a typical college student, not every degree-seeker at MTSU fits that mold. Take Chuck Searles and his daughter, Madisyn, of Thompson Station, Tennessee, for instance.

Chuck is enrolled at MTSU and finishing up his bachelor’s degree after spending more than 18 years at Nissan North America and the eight years before that as a technician for a Nissan dealership. Until enrolling at MTSU in 2019, Chuck had not taken a college course since 1992.

Madisyn, who is a senior at Independence High School, will soon take her first college class as a part of MTSU’s Dual Enrollment Program. With dual enrollment, students can earn both high school and college credit hours from the same class.

MTSU adult learner Chuck Searles, right, is shown with his daughter, Madisyn, a dual enrollment student and rising senior at Independence High School, on the MTSU campus. Chuck enrolled in MTSU’s Applied Leadership Program this year while his daughter is taking a digital arts course to earn high school and college credit. (MTSU photo by Hunter Patterson)

MTSU adult learner Chuck Searles, right, joins his daughter, Madisyn, a dual enrollment student and senior at Independence High School, on the MTSU campus. Chuck enrolled in MTSU’s Applied Leadership Program this year while his daughter is taking a digital arts course to earn high school and college credit. (MTSU photo by Hunter Patterson)

Both Chuck and Madisyn light up when talking about each other. Both find the whole in-school-at-the-same-time situation kind of neat.

“It’s really cool from a parent’s perspective,” Chuck said. “I’m learning a ton, and the fact that the oldest and the youngest in the family are earning college credit at the same place is highly unusual, but it’s incredibly fun.”

Chuck is enrolled in MTSU’s Applied Leadership Program and has taken three classes so far. He says going back to school as an adult comes with its challenges, but the biggest “win” for him is applying what he is learning in class immediately when he gets to work.

“Instead of not having a lot of experience and then thinking ‘I can use this in the future,’ I can put this in the application right now,” he said.

This digital image titled “Pink Lemonade” was created by Madisyn Searles, a rising senior at Independence High School who is also taking a dual enrollment course in digital arts at MTSU. (Courtesy of Madisyn Searles)

Madisyn’s dual enrollment class is in digital arts. She said she became interested in that field because of her sister, who is a senior animation major at another university.

“We like to draw together, and she really awakened my interest in art,” she said as her dad scrolled through photos of her artwork on his phone.

She also gave a shout-out to her digital arts and design teacher at Independence, Stephanie Prewitt, for really stoking her love for art and design.

“She really pushes her students to go beyond the assignments,” Madisyn said. “ I like using Photoshop to draw, and I dabble in After Effects for animation, and I enjoy all of it because at Independence they make you do it all so you leave there more experienced.”

Chuck Searles and other students in the Applied Leadership Program can finish most of their courses online, but there are four separate weeklong intensives that meet on campus. Chuck said he was relieved to find other adults going back to school at similar points in their professional lives.

“I think what’s really great about the Applied Leadership intensives is that the students are adult learners and they have a lot of work experience,” he said. “And when you are put in the situations in class to come up with solutions or you are working on case studies, there are a variety of solutions from everyone because their backgrounds are so different. And all those different potential solutions … they all work!”

Both Madisyn and Chuck say they’re excited about what’s next in their respective collegiate journeys. Madisyn will be finishing up high school and getting a jump-start on her college courses, and Chuck hopes to finish his degree within the next year.

Madisyn agreed with her dad that going to the same school is fun, but she admitted that she’s relieved they won’t be passing each other on campus on a regular basis.

“It’s funny that we both got the opportunity to go here, but neither of us is at the normal college age.”

Anyone interested in either the Applied Leadership Program or Dual Enrollment can visit www.mtsu.edu or call 615-494-7714.

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


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