In the fall of 2021, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga launched a new degree program aimed at working adults.
The Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Leadership (BAS-AL), housed in the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, is a fully online program serving students with previous college, military or work experience— also known as adult learners—who want to complete their undergraduate degrees.
“We are a pretty diverse group as far as our backgrounds, what’s got us there, where we plan to go,” said Larry Guess, one of the fledgling program’s students. “OWLS is what I call us: Older, wiser learners that have life experience.
“We’re not the kids we were the first time we went to school; we’re looking at our goals and dreams a lot differently. I mean, there are several grandparents in this program. Hearing their stories and seeing how they align with mine, it blows me away.”
Here are three of their stories.
Christina Culbreath and her sons Jaden, left, Jasen and Jacob.
Her three sons
Christina Culbreath and her three sons relocated to Chattanooga in 2016 after accepting a job opportunity at Erlanger Health System, where she started as a revenue cycle team lead and now manages multiple application teams. She received an associate’s degree from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2010.
“I have twin boys who are currently seniors and we’ve been looking at different colleges,” she said. “In doing so, I saw that UTC had this leadership program that—as a single, working parent—gives me the flexibility I need to participate.
“As long as I’m encouraging my older two that college would be a great opportunity, this also is a great opportunity for me to accomplish a personal goal. It is giving me the chance to finish school as well.”
Learn more about how the new UTC online program has created leadership opportunities at home and work for Christina Culbreath.
Twenty-five years to the dais
After a brief pause in the conversation, Larry Guess started laughing.
“I just threw 30 years’ worth of stuff at you in a two-minute chat, didn’t I?”
Guess, an emergency medical service member for 16 years and a paramedic the last four, checks off multiple boxes on the list of constituents the BAS-AL program aims to help cross the finish line.
- Former military: Check.
- Working adult with a non-standard schedule: Check.
- Bachelor’s degree needed for career advancement: Check.
- Parent who has already seen multiple children receive college degrees: Check.
Guess’ educational voyage is now back on track. This December, 25 years after he began his academic career—and after five different attempts through the years—he is on pace to participate in commencement activities.
“It’s going to be stupid cool,” he said. “I’m probably going to be that guy walking across the stage bawling because the emotion of that moment is going to be huge.”
Read more about Larry Guess’ long and winding road to the finish line.
Starting and stopping
Sometimes, career paths take longer to figure out.
“I have started and stopped college so many times just trying to find what it was that I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with my career,” said Jermillya Farris, who first took classes at UTC in 2002.
“I have dabbled in so many things and so many degree programs— business administration, interior design, childhood education.”
Farris said she has found a good niche since joining BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee in 2011, where she is a client management associate. It has her thinking of advancement opportunities.
“This is a good place to be,” she said, “but I also need some type of formal education to move up the ladder. Not having a degree is only going to take me so far, in my opinion.”
Read more about how the BAS-AL degree will put Jermillya Farris “in those positions to get there.”
This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.