Many adult students who return to Middle Tennessee State University call themselves lifelong learners. On-the-job training and life’s many uncertainties are constant reminders that one truly never stops learning.
For Wayne Linder, a 2017 integrated studies graduate from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, that’s especially true. He was able to finish his bachelor’s degree after a 15-year break from MTSU. Fast forward a bit to 2021 and he’s now halfway finished with a doctorate in business administration thanks to the flexibility available through the university’s robust online course offerings.
Linder started out at MTSU in 1998 with an interest in the recording industry. He was heavily involved in music, too, and got so busy playing and working in the industry he didn’t return to school and instead stayed on the road.
It was always his intention to finish his degree though.
“I fully intended to graduate,” Linder said. “I started with the company I’m still with today and it grew so quickly that school sort of fell off my radar.”
Linder, now 50, is the leasing-manager for Pioneer Coach, a tour bus company in Nashville. The company has a fleet of more than 40 and leases tour buses to both large and small acts including Chris Young, KISS, Papa Roach, and countless others.
He was actually working at Bonnaroo in 2016 the day MTSU University College contacted him about possibly coming back and finishing his degree.
“I found a cool way to still be involved with music,” he said. “I always do the VIP buses at Bonnaroo, setting up, and that’s when MTSU called me.
“I remember her telling me that I only needed two classes to graduate. I told her I absolutely wanted to finish.”
Linder was contacted by Betty Rinaudo, coordinator of the Graduate MT program. Graduate MT reaches out to and counsels students on how they can return to MTSU and finish their degrees even after they stepped out one, two, or even 15 years ago.
“We want to see students finish their degrees,” Rinaudo said. “So often, students have no idea how close they are to finishing, and we want to help them reach their goals by graduating.
“To hear a student say, ‘This changed my life’ is incredible and at the heart of what we do with Graduate MT.”
Linder says that phone call literally changed the course of his life. He called his wife, who was elated, and he began to plan his return to MTSU.
“It’s so incredible, and the timing was perfect,” he said. “If I would have been 28 or 29 and started a graduate degree I don’t think I would be as successful as I am because I wouldn’t have that experience to pull from.”
Online course flexibility ‘best part about it’
Shortly after graduating with his bachelor’s degree, he decided he still was not finished and went to graduate school. Now, he is taking courses online to finish up his doctorate.
Nearly all of his classes have been online, something he doubted would ever be possible when online courses started more than 20 years ago. Taking classes online has allowed him to be flexible with his schedule and avoid burnout, he said.
“I wake up at 4 a.m. and do my schoolwork,” Linder said. “The autonomy that online gives you is the best part about it.”
Linder compares online learning to a traditional workplace environment. He gets guidance from a professor and is given the materials to succeed and then he goes and does the work. For adult learners who are accustomed to being trusted by their bosses with various tasks and projects, online classes are a natural fit.
“I have a desire now, more than ever, to be a lifelong learner,“ he said. “It is so cool to understand the theories and principles of business and apply it at work and just watch them be successful.
“That phone call changed the course of what I was doing and allowed me to grow in my current position more than I ever thought it would.”
As for what’s next, Linder wants to continue trying to be the best executive he can be at Pioneer Coach and be a leader to his employees. He said he also wants to lead in the classroom, whether that be teaching a course online or in-person.
MTSU offers the largest adult degree completion program in the state of Tennessee. If you’ve thought about finishing what you started and are looking to earn your degree, visit MTSU.edu/FinishNow.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)