For most students, getting ready to go back to school looks like buying new pencils and folders, packing backpacks the night before class and getting to bed early.

For students in Trevecca's Bachelor of Arts in Management and Human Relations (MHR) program, however, going back to school looks like homework at midnight while the kids are asleep, getting dinner cooked for the family in between online lectures and tossing laundry in the dryer with one hand, a textbook in the other.

A special place

Celebrating 30 years this fall, Trevecca's MHR program was designed to offer working adult students an opportunity to complete a bachelor's degree based on individual needs. The program offers interdisciplinary and relevant curriculum with an emphasis on critical thinking, communication, self-awareness and personal development.

Cathy Hendon, who was recently named as the program director, coordinates and manages all curriculum, oversees faculty and their teaching and teaches in the program as needed. Dr. Ricky Christman, associate vice president and dean of Trevecca's School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, says Hendon brings a fresh perspective to the important role.

"I'm delighted to have Cathy on our team and excited about where she will take the program in the future," he said.

Hendon has already hit the ground running. She says it's the continual evolution of the program, the flexibility of the curriculum and the uniqueness of the community that brought her back to the University–and also what has allowed the MHR program to thrive and continue to grow for the past 30 years.

"I worked at Trevecca for about seven years running the nursing program and then left to work at a different university. [After a while], I felt the calling to come back to Trevecca and began talking to some of my colleagues," Hendon says. "Trevecca is definitely a home for the faculty and staff that work at the institution. It's a community of friends, and I really missed that having been there for so long. It's a special place. Not every institution has that. It has a specialness about it."

According to Hendon, Trevecca's MHR program was one of the very first degree-completion programs for adults in Middle Tennessee.

"We were on the forefront of leading the adult education movement in Middle Tennessee 30 years ago. Now you see this plethora of adult education programs, and there is still something really unique about Trevecca's program that makes it a staple in the industry and a staple in Middle Tennessee," she says. 

Nearly 30 years later, Trevecca's School of Graduate and Continuing Studies celebrated a record number of non-traditional students this fall–a 47 percent increase from last fall's enrollment.

Hendon says one of the biggest challenges–and one of the things she is most thankful for–is the rapid growth the program is experiencing.

"One of the challenges I feel is that even though we're growing and changing, we've got to do it the right way. I really want to make sure we are being more intentional about making those changes instead of just patching problems," Hendon says. "One of the things I constantly work at is being a good communicator and knowing I am here for [our more remote] faculty. We have a ton of adjuncts, and they live all over the country. Making sure they feel connected to this community is a challenge too. That's just a part of growing. Making sure those faculty feel like they're involved and have a voice is something that I am intentional about."

A One-of-a-Kind Program

A former secretary in the MHR office, Beverly Lee started working with students just a few months after the program was created. 

“I was volunteering at First Church of the Nazarene, and one of the ladies who attended there got a job in the MHR department,” Lee recalls. “She called me to see if I would be interested in coming to work there. It was the interaction with the adult students that drew me in. You hear so many stories, some joyful stories about [people going back to school], and some inspiring ones about single moms and people [bouncing back after] divorces.”

Shortly after Lee began working in the program, her husband passed away. Lee says the support she received from the program faculty and students helped her through that difficult time.

She stayed on with the program for another 25 years before retiring.

“I loved every minute of it,” Lee says. “I loved working with the adult students. It was a whole new field to me because I had not worked in academics whatsoever, but I learned a lot. I’m [grateful] for my time there.” 

Bill Gemmill, a member of the program’s first graduating class in 1989, says he first heard about it on the radio right about the time he moved back to Nashville to finish school after serving in the Air Force. Trevecca is where he earned his degree, got the foundation needed to begin a career in education and also where he met his wife, Judy, who graduated from Trevecca in 1973.

“I moved to Nashville from Knoxville in ’86, and I couldn’t go to school full-time,” Gemmill says. “I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go, and about that time, I heard a radio commercial about Trevecca starting a program for working adults who already had college credits. I said, ‘Hey, that’s for me,’ and I applied. The rest is history.”

For Gemmill, the first-of-its-kind program in Middle Tennessee was innovative.

“You hear about adult completion programs all the time [now], but Trevecca led the way in Nashville,” he says. “I was impressed with that and glad to be a part of it. They were very innovative. Comparatively speaking, I think [the program] is right up there at the top of the game.”

Carolyn Smith, a former faculty with the MHR program, said she wasn’t interested in working with the program at first, but once she saw the impact it could make on the lives of students—students like Bill—she wanted in.

“It really helped the people who had not been able to finish school, whether they were divorced, had a lack of interest or money, or decided to have a family,” Smith says. “The faculty went over and beyond their workload. They wanted to help. There were very few that [we] turned down, and [because of that] I really enjoyed the people I worked with.” 

The Future of MHR

Part of what makes Trevecca’s MHR program so unique—says Hendon—is the cohort model.  In this format, a small number of new students go through the entire program together over the course in three semesters. In a sense, it builds two of Trevecca’s core characteristics— support and community—right into the program. 

“[Operating on this model is] a strength of our program and something that every adult education program does not have,” says Hendon. “This cohort model really builds that connection among the students so that [students understand] they are all on the same journey. They are all getting the same degree and are all nervous together. They continue to go through the program the whole way, and they all graduate together.” 

It is this model, along with the standard of learning and the level of community, that makes the program invaluable to its graduates, according to Hendon. 

Though Trevecca’s MHR program is quickly approaching the 30-year mark, there are no plans to slow down anytime soon. The program has experienced exponential growth in the last few years, becoming a leader in adult education throughout Middle Tennessee and beyond. Hendon expects that Trevecca’s program will continue to thrive because of its foundations in truly caring for its students.

“It all boils down to [the fact that] we are an institution that firmly believes in the needs of adults and wanting to get them where they want to go. We’re student-focused, and that’s what drives our work. We want to bring students in and journey them through. At the end of the day, if we’re not serving our students, then we’re not doing what we’re here to do in terms of God’s work and manifesting a change in these students,” Hendon says. 

For information about the Bachelor of Arts in Management and Human Relations program, visit trevecca.edu/mhr

By Bailey Basham, is a recent Trevecca grad working at a small newspaper in Sewanee, TN. She enjoys watering her plants, keeping organized, journaling and scoping out where to find the best chicken biscuit.