Todd Appleton wants to be a role model for his son and two stepdaughters.
“He wants our kids to get their education differently than the path he has gone down,” said his wife, Holly Appleton. “It’s a lot harder to go back to school in your 40s than straight out of high school. He has bills and work and obligations and things like that, so he’s trying to talk them into doing the opposite of what he did.”
Todd is a student in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Leadership (BAS-AL) program, part of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies. He also is the web and campus information administrator for Cleveland State Community College.
He has what he has called his dream job, but as his wife said, “He doesn’t just half do anything; he always wants to do more,” which led him to the UTC program.
The BAS-AL program provides an online, flexible schedule for adult learners seeking employment or advancement in the workforce that requires a bachelor’s degree.
The program prepares students for a wide variety of careers by focusing on innovative and effective applied leadership. Specifically, the coursework and experiences will help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to solve problems, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and assess effectiveness in diverse environments.
Everyone in the fledgling BAS-AL program, which started in 2021, has a story of how they got to this point.
In Appleton’s case, he previously sought a bachelor’s degree via an online school that folded; credits didn’t transfer, so he had to start all over. He went to Cleveland State, earning an associate degree, and transitioned to UTC to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
But his story isn’t that easy.
“I have done everything the hard way,” he said. “Just like your parents tell you, you just have to live and learn, right?”
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If everything goes as planned, the father/son duo of Todd and Greysun Appleton will be pursuing bachelor’s degrees from UTC at the same time early next year.
Greysun’s college path is traditional. The 2022 McMinn County (Tennessee) High School graduate stayed close to home to attend Cleveland State and is slated to receive an associate degree in December.
Todd also graduated from McMinn County High School (in 1995) and earned an associate degree from Cleveland State (in 2021). But his college path is far from the traditional route.
After high school, Appleton joined the industrial force.
“I was working in multiple factories,” he explained, “and I just realized this was not for me. The dream that I had was basically to be a web developer. That’s what I always wanted to do, so I started venturing and looking toward that path.
“The only thing that would even work for me was online schooling because I was so busy working in factories, working anywhere from eight- to 12-hour shifts and all weekends, of course.”
He found an online school that worked for him and went deep into that program, but the rug was literally pulled out from under him. The online school collapsed, and his accumulated credit hours wouldn’t transfer into other programs.
He preferred not to name the defunct institution. “I don’t want to glorify that place; I’m kind of sour about them,” he said. “I was very far into that program; I got down to about four classes to receiving my bachelor’s degree when the school folded.
“It was a nightmare, to be honest with you, and I had to start over from scratch.”
Holly Appleton witnessed his wanting for a degree and was more than a bystander. She is the communications director at Cleveland State and has worked in higher education since 2000, starting as an admissions counselor at Tennessee Technological University—where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
She has been, as Todd said, his “biggest cheerleader.”
“I started my whole career and journey on the recruitment side of things, so I’m used to talking about the benefits of a college degree and the doors it opens for you,” Holly said.
“He got so close before, and a lot of people would have just given up at that point,” she continued. “There were times when Todd wanted to give up, and that’s explainable and makes sense. But I would tell him he could do it—and he has—and I’m proud of him.”
Starting all over meant working while taking classes part-time at Cleveland State, which led to his landing a temporary position as an assistant web developer at the college in 2015. When he started doing that job, “I realized that I was good at it; this is where I wanted to be.”
He continued being a part-time student and full-time employee, working for several different companies in the Cleveland area before being hired full-time by Cleveland State in 2019. Along the way, he found an advanced program the college offered for working adults that proved to be a good fit, graduating with an associate degree in general technology in 2021 while earning a cyber defense technical certificate.
In January 2022, Appleton joined the UTC BAS-AL program, a fully online program featuring seven-week courses.
“It feels like you’re not taking as many hours as you are, but it’s full-time,” he said, “and I love the fact that it’s this easy to go back to school and get a degree at any age.”
LEAP program advisor Christina Craig is his BAS-AL mentor.
“One of the greatest strengths—if not the greatest strength—of the program is that it can kind of meet the student where they’re at in terms of figuring out what they have to do to juggle it and be successful and still make progress toward all of the areas in their life,” she said.
“He’s definitely very motivated and ambitious to reach his goals. He works really hard and is juggling all of those life requirements that many of our other students are also juggling; he has the family aspect and the work-life balance.”
Said Appleton, “I wear a lot of hats. I’m a full-time employee, I’m a dad, I’m a stepdad, I’m a husband, I’m a son and I’m a full-time student. But the workload’s not so unbearable to where I can’t be all those things and still be a full-time student.
“The workload, it’s hard; I’m not going to lie. I mean, it’s a challenge, but at the same time, it’s still doable. You still have enough time in the day to spend time with your family to have dinner and to go out and enjoy yourself, see a movie or whatever and still have enough time to study and do your skills.”
It also allowed him to create a teaching moment for his children: “Don’t do what I did. Stay on a college path.”
“He wants to follow in my footsteps and go to UTC,” Todd said of Greysun. “One of the biggest pushes for me was just being a role model for my son and showing him that if I can do it at my age, he can definitely do it at his young age and continue going forward.
“Just him finishing Cleveland State in the fall and starting UTC in the spring, and me graduating (in 2024)—it’s like we’re meeting almost in the middle. That’s a story in itself.”
Click here for more details about the Bachelor of Applied Science: Applied Leadership degree at UTC and how to apply.