Belmont's Groundbreaking Architecture Program Helps T.J. Wilt Build New Future

T.J. Wilt
O’More College of Architecture & Design

Belmont's Groundbreaking Architecture Program Helps T.J. Wilt Build New Future

June 20, 2024 | by Cara Davis

After successful finance career, 47-year-old Nashville native seizes opportunity to finally pursue his lifelong passion at alma mater

Nashville native T.J. Wilt always had a passion for architecture, dating back to sixth grade when an inspirational art teacher had the class draw floor plans. But when it came time for college, Wilt pursued the expected path, earning a finance degree from Belmont University in 1999 followed by an MBA, and building a successful career in business. Architecture remained an unfulfilled dream.

Pandemic Prompts Reevaluation

Then the pandemic hit in 2020, upending lives and prompting deep self-reflection for many, Wilt included. Faced with personal changes and dissatisfied with his corporate finance job, the father of three teenage boys decided it was time to finally chase his architectural aspirations. 

"COVID made us all kind of take a step back and say, what's this all about? What's life all about?" Wilt said. "I took that opportunity. I was like, you know what, I'm gonna go back and follow this passion that I've had forever."

Discovering that his alma mater Belmont had just launched an architecture program, Wilt seized the opportunity. Leveraging Belmont's Adult Degree Program, which provides a 40% tuition discount and credit for prior coursework, he dove in headfirst in Fall 2020 as part of the inaugural cohort.

Finding Kinship with Fellow Career-changers

Now 47, Wilt is on track to graduate in May 2025 at age 48 with a Bachelor of Architecture, one of only a handful of "second degree seekers" in his class. He's found kinship with other adult learners in the program like Tess and Kim who've also made bold career changes in their 30s.  "Kim, Tess and I were immediately lumped in together and I was thankful for that," Wilt said. "We've all had career switches and we've all come back." 

Leading by Example

For Wilt, this second act is about more than just professional fulfillment. It's about demonstrating to his sons that it's never too late to courageously pursue one's passions in life. 

"My boys are probably my biggest passion and to show them it's never too late to follow a passion, it's never too late to be happy – that was a big piece of it for me," Wilt said. "As long as you can make it work and you figure out ways to check the boxes you need to check and then just be happy with it."

Currently co-owner of the beloved local outdoor retailer, Cumberland Transit, on West End, Wilt is making it work by structuring his small businesses to allow him to focus on his studies.

Focused on the Future

"I get to focus in on the major side of it," Wilt said about the program. "I'm not worried about when I graduate...I'm not worried about 20-30 more years of work. I have no plans to stop."

Wilt relishes being part of history as Belmont's first architecture graduating class, helping shape the program's future. He's grown close with his professors and is thrilled one of his favorites, Katherine Kennon, was just hired full-time. "The program is spectacular considering it is such a young program," Wilt said. "We are all building the future of the program together, which is a priceless experience for me."

Designing a Meaningful Legacy 

Looking ahead, Wilt is excited to explore his love of mid-century modern design and sustainable housing, especially using shipping containers. While he dreams of one day designing timeless residential projects on the side, the program has cultivated an appreciation for commercial architecture.

"What I've figured out is that I can do [commercial] by day and build houses at night," Wilt said. "I don't want to build anything that's going to be torn down in the next 10 years. I want something, whatever I build, I want to have people look at and say, ‘oh, that's gonna stay there for the next 100 years, 200 years.’"

When Wilt dons his cap and gown next spring, he'll be realizing a childhood dream deferred but never forgotten. He'll be showing his boys and himself that happiness and purpose are always within reach, at any stage of life – with a little faith, hard work and an open door from a university that believes in spectacular second chapters.

"We are all building the future of the program together, which is a priceless experience for me."

T.J. Wilt

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