Driscolls Travel While Earning Degrees

Keith and Monica Driscoll have traveled many a road together. Their story includes meeting while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, marriage several years later, attending college together and the birth of the couple’s first child. During the last few years, the couple also made a big dent is their bucket-list goal to travel to all 50 states, an unlikely accomplishment as life happened for the couple. They received their UT Martin criminal justice degrees during 2022 December commencement exercises in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center and keep moving toward the next adventure.  

The Driscolls live in Gates, Tennessee, in Lauderdale County. While Monica spent most of her youth in Halls, Keith was raised in Massachusetts. She played softball and earned a scholarship to Dyersburg State with her eye on becoming an athletic trainer. She eventually left school and joined the Marine Corps at age 26. Keith was also interested in sports but opted to work for a time after high school before joining the Marine Corps at age 24. He went to bootcamp in November 2013, and she arrived a month later in December.

“Both of us were working a couple jobs at the same time, so we kind of got tired of that and kind of needed a change of scenery,” Keith said about their lives prior to meeting. “We weren’t really going on the path that we wanted to see ourselves going down, so we thought joining the military would kind of set us straight in a way.”

The couple met the next year in a holding platoon or “recovery barracks” as they recuperated from military-related injuries. They went different directions after being released but stayed in contact. The couple later reconnected, completed their military service in 2017, considered reenlisting, but decided to pursue a different path by pursuing college degrees. They married in September 2018 the first semester they started at UT Martin. They continued to live in Lauderdale County and travel to classes together, when possible, which was a 90-minute commute to the main campus. The Driscolls’ daughter, Maelynne, was born in July 2019.

Both explored different majors before settling on criminal justice. Then the pandemic hit in 2020, and in-person classes transitioned to online, which was a big change for the couple. “I really liked going in person,” Keith said. “I just thought I could learn better that way.”

However, they adapted to the change and continued progress toward earning degrees. As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and in-person learning resumed, the Driscolls took advantage of the Criminal Justice Program’s many opportunities for experiential learning.

“That’s why we like being in the classroom better than being at home,” Monica said. “And it’s just we’re both more hands-on learning, so I think that was where we had the most fun with the classes.”

Among the real-world training in their major, the Driscolls spent a day at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Training Center in Nashville and the Lawrence D. Bromley Training Center located in the C.E. Weldon Building in Martin. The Bromley Training Center features a VirTra judgmental use-of-force simulator to recreate realistic law enforcement situations.

“There’s a big emphasis on the de-escalation training in the simulator, and I think that really helps a lot,” Keith said. “You’re exposed to a number of different scenarios, and how you react determines a certain outcome of the simulation.”

While pursuing degrees with a growing family, the Driscoll pursued a goal to visit every state in the nation. Their daughter’s birth gave her a head start on her parents’ bucket-list item as Maelynne has been a part of many trips in her young life.

“We actually took our first road trip with my mother,” Monica said. “We went to the Grand Canyon and a few more places (in the region). That’s when our first big road trip started, and then every summer since then, we’ve kind of taken road trips, cross-country road trips for months long at a time.”

Keith’s interest in travel began when he moved from the Northeast to the South with his military enlistment. “I like to experience different things, like moving from Massachusetts to North Carolina (the location for Camp LeJeune), being deployed, seeing all those different cultures and how they live, and then moving here to Tennessee,” he said. His overseas deployments took him to Italy, Africa and Japan.

While the family travel made memories, the ability to take online classes provided a way to continue progress toward their degrees while on the road. “We’ve taken a few summer classes while traveling,” Monica said. “We’ve actually taken quite a few of Dr. (Brian) Donavant’s classes while we’ve been traveling. … We actually like doing the video discussions for his class.” Donavant is professor of criminal justice.

Following years of commuting to Martin, adapting to a mix of online and in-person classes and plenty of hard work, receiving their bachelor’s degrees was a proud moment for the Driscolls. And the moment was made even more special by crossing the commencement stage together. With degrees in hand, the couple is currently partners in a commercial and residential pressure-washing business, and the future is filled with promise.

“It makes me feel so proud of myself because I’ve never been that great at school. … And for me to graduate with honors and to actually get my bachelor’s degree – nobody else in my family other than my mother has actually gotten a college degree,” Monica said. Keith added, “We’ve had to kind of go to school in a different way with the online classes and managing a family. … It’s kind of good for us to accomplish this and then see what’s next.”

Donavant, a former police recruiter and training director, agreed.

“Keith and Monica were great students, and I think they both would make outstanding police officers, but I’m confident the skills they gained in our program will transition well to other ventures, and they’ll succeed in whatever they do,” he said. “After all, life’s a journey and situations change. That’s what our program and a UTM education is all about – helping folks to get to where they want to be.”

Graduation was memorable for another reason – Monica was expecting the couple’s second child when the received their degrees, and their second daughter, Laynie, was born May 27. Their growing family will likely plan visits to a few more states to finish that travel bucket list, which became a memorable part of their education journey.

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