Non-traditional journey of a non-traditional student

Travis Jenkins, a commuter student and engineering major, is like any other commuter student, except that his trip to class is 342 miles long.

A 40-year-old entrepreneur from Tallahassee, Florida, who now lives in Nashville, Jenkins originally enrolled at UTM in 1995. Back then, he was on scholarship on the football team and was pursuing an engineering technology degree. Exactly 20 years, a marriage, four kids and two businesses later, Jenkins is back in school working on completing his bachelor’s of science in engineering.

Jenkins travels 2 hours and 42 minutes to class, four days a week, and requires a full tank of gas in his Nissan Versa. He returned to school despite the drive and the years that came in between for one simple reason: “It was one thing in life I never completed.”

Jenkins is not the first in his family to go to great lengths to further their education, and grew up with an excellent role model when it comes to finishing degrees. Many years ago, when he was younger, his father drove two and a half hours every day to finish his own degree. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jenkins registered “to see” if he could sign up for classes. To his surprise, he could register, and so he did.

It was only after registering for classes that he surprised his wife with the news. After the initial shock wore off, Jenkins has received lots of support from his family as he works to complete his degree. Luckily, his wife’s parents and grandparents live in the Nashville area and help take care of the couple’s four kids.

“I left for a number of reasons,” Jenkins said about his first stint at UTM.

During spring semester of his freshman year playing for the football team, Jenkins blew out his knee. Rehab during his sophomore year and having to retake several calculus classes took a toll on him, and he decided to leave UTM during the spring of his sophomore year.

“Different things throughout life pulled me back to Martin,” he said about returning to UTM instead of another university.

One particular memory from his days at UTM stands out in his mind.

“I could always picture 19-year-old me looking at Dr. Wheeler’s office wall with a signed baseball card lineup,” he said.

In 2005, Jenkins got his hands on the Sounds championship game lineup cards and made his own collage. Every time he looked at his collection, it took him back to those younger days, and pulled him back toward Martin.

As it turns out, UTM was not only his old stomping grounds, it was the only school that would count credits from the classes he took 20 years ago.

Returning to school after 20 years is obviously a challenge, especially since Jenkins did not do any math classes during his time away. Since he had to retake both pre-calculus and calculus during his original time in Martin, both his advisor, and the dean of his college were concerned about him “walking into calculus 2” upon his return. They were not the only ones, so Jenkins began practicing solving equations every day for a month before classes began. The online program he used, Khan Academy, is a free educational website, and coincidentally the same one his children use.

This time around, Jenkins is succeeding in all of his classes, including calculus 2, with flying colors.

One question he asked himself was, “Why could I do this now?” His answer has become the backbone of his current educational strategy: discipline. Twenty years of life experience taught him two important things: “You have to go to every class,” and “Calculus homework has to be done every night.”

“I realized what needed to be done and I knew if I wanted to graduate, I had to do it,” he said.

After this semester, Jenkins only has two more semesters until he graduates.

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