For 59-year-old Franklin County, Tenn., native John Dotson, finishing his college degree seemed far-fetched. But when Dotson’s daughter, Rachel Neal, completed her degree through Trevecca’s Bachelor of Arts in Management and Human Relations (MHR) program, John started to wonder if the program would work for him, too.
It was 2009 when Rachel enrolled in the program, attending Trevecca classes one night a week at Motlow State Community College. It would take six more years before Dotson stopped dreaming about completing his degree and made it a reality.
Out of high school, Dotson attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he played baseball on scholarship. But Dotson says he soon lost interest in his education and moved back home. He briefly attended Motlow State Community College, then transferred to Alabama A&M, where he continued to play baseball. Dotson got married while at Alabama A&M and chose to put his education on pause to start working to support his family.
“I kept telling myself I would finish my degree later,” Dotson said. “But later never really came.” At the time, Dotson said he figured he was lucky enough to have a good job. He always assumed he really didn’t have time to go back to school, anyway.
Then 2009 rolled around, and Rachel enrolled in Trevecca’s MHR program at Motlow State. As his daughter completed her coursework, Dotson became very impressed with the program and its structure. Rachel says that her dad always valued education and encouraged her to pursue her degree.
“My dad has always encouraged his children to pursue a good education,” Rachel says. “Often, he would tell us that he wished he would have finished his college education. He was a huge support for me on this journey!”
While Dotson knew Trevecca’s MHR program had worked for his daughter, he still wasn’t quite ready to enroll and finish the degree he’d started 40 years before. It would take a few more pieces falling into place for that to happen.
THE TURNING POINT
Fast forward roughly 40 years of hard work and raising a family. That’s when Dotson’s workplace was bought out by a different company.
“My dad began working for an employer who offered tuition reimbursement incentives for the program,” Neal says. Dotson had watched his daughter’s progress and applauded her success in the MHR program. After all those years with an unfinished degree hanging over his head, he began to think that now was the time. After all, when Dotson thought about his “bucket list,” finishing his degree was one of the top items.
“I’ve kind of had it on my mind for awhile now, and I kept thinking it’s either now or never,” Dotson says.
So, Dotson soon applied for the program, thinking it could lead to something new. “Dad was very excited to share with me that he and a friend applied for the program,” Rachel remembers. “I was so proud of this decision, and I knew this would fulfill my dad’s dream of becoming a college graduate.”
MAKING A DREAM REALITY
In August 2015, Dotson began the program, attending one night a week from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Motlow State Community College site in Tullahoma, Tenn. He began with 98 credit hours and needed 120 to graduate. “I was a little scared to start because I hadn’t been to school in so long,” Dotson says. “But people at Trevecca were very helpful and bent over backward to help out.”
Dotson went into the program not knowing what to expect and unsure if he would be able to keep up with the younger students. “But I have,” Dotson says. “I’ve even made good grades along the way!”
Dr. Marvin Bunde remembers Dotson’s concern about being able to handle the coursework, particularly technology. “He worked very well with whatever we used, and the technology did not present any noticeable obstacles,” Bunde recalls. “I loved his attitude.”
While Dotson is excited about achieving his decades-long goal of completing his degree, it isn’t the only benefit he’s encountered from the experience. Dotson says his MHR journey has also been a beautiful example of community.
“I’ve met new people and made new friends,” Dotson says. “We all encourage each other, pray together and laugh together. It has given me self- esteem and self-confidence.”
A WORTHY CHALLENGE
Dotson doesn’t deny that he’s had a few challenging moments in the program along the way. Even so, he’s quick to say it’s been a great experience.
“It’s been an eye-opener,” Dotson says. “But I’ve learned a lot, and I’m glad I did it.”
While Dotson counts Matt Hastings and Dr. Marvin Bunde as teachers who inspired him during his coursework, both are quick to point out that Dotson taught each of them a lesson about perseverance and determination.
“I’ve heard all the various reasons students decide to complete their bachelor’s degree— career advancement, salary increase, and so forth,” Hastings said. “John’s reason for completing his degree is a testimony to his determination and tenacity. He contributes valuable wisdom and experience to each assignment as well as our classroom discussions. He is an inspiration!”
Bunde, who taught Dotson in one course, remembers his student as someone who spoke with wisdom and offered enlightening comments during class. “I would gladly welcome many more students who reflected John’s interest, commitment to learning, and openness to exploring ideas,” Bunde said.
Dr. Tim Eades, associate provost and vice president of Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, said he was honored to teach Dotson through Trevecca’s program at Motlow State.
“One of the reasons I truly love our bachelor’s degree-completion program in management (MHR) is the opportunity it gives us to meet great adult students like John and serve them in obtaining a lifelong goal of a college degree,” Eades said. “For 30 years, Trevecca has been living out its mission to provide education for leadership and service for students of all ages.
The program is going strong, and we look forward to seeing how God will use these next 30 years.”
A DREAM COMES TRUE
These days, Dotson is counting down the credit hours needed to get his diploma. He’s set to graduate in November, and one of the first things he plans to do after getting his degree is to start sending out his new-and-improved resume. After working in manual labor for most of his adult life, Dotson’s goal with his new degree is to get a job in management or as a supervisor.
According to Bunde, that goal wouldn’t be possible without Dotson’s determination—and the fact that Trevecca offered classes at a satellite location near Dotson’s home.
“If this program were not available at Motlow, I do not believe Mr. Dotson would have finished his degree,” Bunde says. “From his comments in class, I do not think John would have attempted to complete his degree online, and I don’t think it would have been feasible for him to travel to Trevecca for classes once each week. The off-site MHR offering at Motlow State fit Mr. Dotson perfectly, and he embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly.”
Dotson says he’s excited about completing his degree—and he’s not the only one. His daughter, Rachel, who now works for Trevecca as a campus enrollment counselor at Motlow State, can’t wait to see her dad achieve his dream.
“My dad turns 60 in November and will officially be a college graduate in December,” she says. “He is truly a testimony to the fact that this program can change your life. My dad could never complete his degree in a traditional college setting because of his work schedule. The Trevecca MHR program has given him the opportunity to complete his degree, and I am so thankful to be able to watch his accomplishment unfold!”
But the story doesn’t end there.
After seeing the success of his dad and sister, Daniel Dotson has also enrolled in the program. This fall, he’ll begin the journey of completing his college degree through Trevecca’s MHR program at Motlow State.