People cheering on MTSU students during December’s graduation may have wondered why graduate DJ Jackson displayed 1991-2022 on his cap.
Jackson attended MTSU from 1991-95 before he left to work, save money and start his 25-year career so far at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. Thanks to taking classes throughout the years and MTSU’s Prior Learning Assessment Program, Jackson earned his Bachelor of Science degree 31 years later.
He didn’t realize the magnitude of his accomplishment until he read the numbers on his cap the night before graduation.
“When I saw that, it automatically made me think about everything I had accomplished since 1991,” Jackson recalled. “It seemed like graduation was one of the biggest accomplishments of all. I was so much younger when I started and to see that in writing on the top of my cap was just a big wow. It put it in perspective.”
Jackson started as a patrol deputy in 1997 at the Sheriff’s Office before being promoted as a detective and now a detective sergeant. But his dream of completing his degree lingered.
He returned to classes in 2002 for a few semesters but stopped again to focus on his career.
Jackson was driving by MTSU in 2020 when he wondered about finishing his degree. He immediately stopped by the college and started the registration process. He completed both online and in person classes.
“I would like to encourage people to research the Prior Learning Assessment Program,” Jackson said. “That program made it much easier to achieve my degree. The program allows you to accumulate college credit through work experience and training. It’s an excellent program that’s great for non-traditional students.”
MTSU reported the bachelor’s degree in integrated studies in public safety is geared to law enforcement, homeland security, emergency management, fire safety and other public service professionals at the local, state, and federal level.
The goal is to provide public safety officials with the opportunity to develop important knowledge and skills in crisis response, diversity, communication, and leadership. The Prior Learning Assessment Program applied Jackson’s law enforcement training courses and experience toward his degree in integrated studies with emphasis on psychology and criminal justice.
Associate Dean John Burchfield of MTSU’s University College said, “We always tell students they are closer to finishing their degrees than they think. Using prior learning assessment, working adults can save valuable time and money on their higher education journey.
“This method is so valuable for public safety professionals like Detective Sgt. Jackson because we know that learning can happen outside the classroom in a variety of ways,” Burchfield said.
“It's an honor to help hard working professionals realize how quickly they can reach their goal of graduation and we are eager to make that objective realized for even more people in the area,” the associate dean said. “MTSU partners with multiple local agencies in our corporate partnership program, specifically designed to support educational goals for working individuals.”
Jackson said students returning to college are more mature and disciplined. Their children may be older, giving the student more time to focus on learning. The program is ideal for anyone who has extensive training such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses and the military.
“I just wanted to finish a journey I started so long ago,” Jackson said.
Attending his graduation were family members, including Bobbie, Destiney and Alyssa, who will graduate from high school this year, co-workers and friend, John Conner, whom he met his freshman year.
“The best thing about graduating was my daughter, Alyssa, sharing that moment with me,” Jackson said. “I hope it encourages her to strive for excellence.”