Thompson's Station father and daughter studying at MTSU together

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Chuck and Madisyn Searles

MTSU adult learner Chuck Searles, right, is shown with his daughter, Madisyn, a dual enrollment student and rising senior at Independence High School, on the MTSU campus.

What comes to mind when you think of a college student? Many people might picture a 20-year-old who is discovering who they are and exactly what they’ll be doing after graduation.

While that may be the profile of a typical college student, not every student at MTSU fits that mold. Take Chuck Searles and his daughter, Madisyn, of Thompson’s Station.

Chuck is enrolled at MTSU and finishing up his bachelor’s degree after spending more than 18 years at Nissan North America and the eight years before that as a technician for a Nissan dealership. Until enrolling at MTSU in 2019, Chuck had not taken a college course since 1992. 

Madisyn, who is a rising senior at Independence High School, will soon take her first college class as a part of MTSU’s Dual Enrollment Program. With dual enrollment, students can earn both high school credit and college credit hours from the same class. 

Both Chuck and Madisyn light up when talking about one another, both finding the whole situation kind of neat.  

“It's really cool from a parent’s perspective,” Chuck Searles said. “I’m learning a ton, and the fact that the oldest and the youngest in the family are earning college credit at the same place is highly unusual, but it’s incredibly fun.”

Chuck is enrolled in the Applied Leadership Program and has taken three classes so far. He says going back to school as an adult comes with its challenges, but the biggest win for him is applying what he is learning in class immediately when he gets to work. 

“Instead of not having a lot of experience and then thinking I can use this in the future, I can put this in the application right now,” he said. 

For Madisyn’s dual enrollment class, she’ll take digital arts. She said she became interested in that field because of her sister, who is a senior animation major at a different university. 

“We like to draw together, and she really awakened my interest in art,” she said as her dad scrolled through the photos on his phone of her artwork. 

She also gave a shout out to her teacher, Stephanie Prewitt, for really stoking her love for art and design. 

“She really pushes her students to go beyond the assignments,” Madisyn said. “I like using Photoshop (software) to draw and I dabble in After Effects for animation, and I enjoy all of it, because at Independence, they make you do it all so you leave there more experienced.” 

For Chuck, the Applied Leadership Program can be finished mostly online, but there are four separate weeklong intensives that meet on campus. He said he was relieved to find other adults at similar points in their professional lives going back to school.

“I think what's really great about the Applied Leadership intensives is that the students are adult learners and they have a lot of work experience,” he said. “And when you are put in the situations in class to come up with solutions or you are working on case studies, there are a variety of solutions from everyone because their backgrounds are so different. And all those different potential solutions ... they all work!”

Both Madisyn and Chuck are excited about what is next in their respective collegiate journeys. Madisyn will finish up high school while getting a jumpstart on college courses with dual enrollment. Chuck hopes to finish up his degree within the next year.

Madisyn agreed with her dad, saying going to the same school is fun, but she’s notably relieved they won’t pass each other on campus on a regular basis. 

“It’s funny that we both got the opportunity to go here, but neither of us is at the normal college age,” she said. 

Anyone interested in either the Applied Leadership Program or Dual Enrollment, visit or call 615-494-7714.

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