December 11, 2017

Erica and Jonathan PetersenBetween work and a youth baseball game, Erica and Jonathan Petersen herded their three children back to their alma mater to revisit an old stage of their relationship, both figuratively and literally.

Sandwiched neatly in the Petersens’ relationship and educational journey from Cole Camp High School to University of Central Missouri is three years at State Fair Community College. Both of them say State Fair was much more foundational than just a steppingstone to the life they have built together in Sedalia. Right out of high school, State Fair seemed like an easy decision.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Really I still don’t,” Jonathan says with a laugh, modestly neglecting to mention being named Principal of the Year in recognition for his work at Smithton High School.

“I needed something that would allow me to explore a little bit without breaking the bank,” he says. “But the thing that really brought me here was the show choir.”

Cindy McClain, who won Instructor of the Year in 1999, was the show choir director at that time and approached Jonathan with a scholarship after the SFCC show choir captured his attention on a local school tour.

Erica wasn’t far behind.

“The second year, I think Cindy felt pity for me and let me into the group, even though I have no rhythm,” she says.

Show choir would become a major part of their early college careers. They spent three years performing for the community, representing SFCC on their own high school tour and even going on a performance cruise to Bermuda.

“We spent, I don’t even know how many hours a day here,” Jonathan says, describing a packed rehearsal schedule starting at 6:30 in the morning and continuing through the afternoon. “You were forced to be there a lot.”

“He says ‘forced’ in a nice way,” Erica amends. “[Cindy] demanded a lot from us, but it was good. It showed.”

Between classes, rehearsals and performances, show choir gave the Petersens plenty of quality time with their classmates and each other.

“Several people that as adults we’re friends with, we met here at State Fair. Go back a generation, my mom and her friends did the same thing; they all met here,” Jonathan says. “That was a lifetime ago, but they’re lifetime friends.”

“I feel like it not only gives you an opportunity to meet people, but it gives you an opportunity to learn so much more,” Erica adds. “I learned a lot about myself here, what I wanted to be, what I didn’t want to be.”

The Petersens are both strong advocates for getting involved at any stage of education. Jonathan has specifically made it his mission at Smithton to get 100 percent of his students participating in something in which they’re interested. From packed football games to scholar bowl matches, whose audiences might only consist of one another, activities are opportunities in which students can learn outside of the classroom.

Even more important, the Petersens stress, is how these activities develop communities on which students can rely and often with a leader they can trust.

“It gives you an opportunity to have somebody else touch your life. Those people can be a mentor or a coach, your sponsor, whoever,” Erica says. “You’ve got another asset; you’ve got another ally to lean on.”

The same holds true in the classroom. Because of the small class sizes and community-focused campus at SFCC, the Petersens say that their instructors became familiar sources of guidance and educational support. Jonathon emulated these academic relationships while teaching mathematics as an adjunct for SFCC’s Clinton campus, tailoring his teaching to a class’s needs and encouraging students to feel comfortable asking for help.

“You have to learn how to be a thinker and how to be a problem-solver,” Jonathan says. “That’s what education should be about. It’s not just memorizing out of a textbook.”

As an administrator, he hopes that Smithton emulates State Fair in priming students with this kind of practical, foundational knowledge for whatever stage of their career or education comes next.

“You continue, just like everything, to mold and grow and change, but it starts with a good foundation,” Erica adds. “If you don’t have the foundation, then you don’t have the rest. That’s what you get out of classes.”

For Erica, the communication skills stressed in her English composition classes paid off. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree, she began looking for work to supplement her education with hands-on experience.

“I literally got out the phone book and went to banking and started calling every single bank to see if I could get an internship there. I made it to F, First National Bank of Clinton.”

Now the Assistant Vice President/Business Development/Marketing Director of Central Bank in Sedalia, Erica spends time connecting Central Bank to the Sedalia community by meeting customers’ needs, a type of relationship with which the Petersens are already very familiar.

“I think SFCC is very responsive to the needs of the community,” Jonathan says, citing the school’s involvement in regional events and especially the increase of technical and vocational programs that have become critical to the local economy.

“We’re so lucky to have this school here,” Erica adds. “We’ve been able to develop a workforce, a pool of people right in our own backyard! People we know will stay, not people that we’re going to train and then they leave. People who stay because this is their home. And I feel like continuing that responsiveness into our community is what makes [SFCC] so special.”

As Erica and Jonathan raise their children here, they’re excited to see people of Sedalia work with and through SFCC so it will continue to thrive for many generations to come.

Story by Jackson Ingram
Summer 2017 Communications Intern
Marketing and Communications

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