“Education doesn’t mean you have to have a bunch of letters behind your name,” says Tina Luper, AA, BS, JD. “It means you need to figure out what you need to be happy, and then figure out what education you need to fulfill that goal.”
From her initial career as a secretary to an attorney with her own legal practice, Luper has found success with and without her impressive list of academic degrees.
“Education is about taking advantage of all of those opportunities you need to be successful in life,” she says. “So if you look at it from that perspective, it doesn’t matter what you want to be; it matters that you want to be something, and you want to be good at it.”
Losing her mother to a terminal illness at 16 and marrying high school sweetheart Donnie at 18, Luper was ready to enter the workforce right after graduation to begin a new life. The Secretarial Science Certificate she received from SFCC in 1989 gave her a career and a path because of the vocational credits she had accumulated in high school.
“It’s wonderful for high school kids to take advantage of that program,” Luper says. “I just encourage all high school students who are seeking opportunities, whether to go for a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or do something in the trades. State Fair has programs that can enrich your life. They did that for me.”
In 1997, Luper accepted a position as a legal secretary for Steve Fritz and Laurie Ward, both of whom would become Luper’s mentors as their passion for the law captivated her interest. After years of professional and personal growth, Luper was ready for a new experience, and State Fair, which had prepared her for her first decade of fulfilling work, was the natural choice for the next step.
“It’s a great place to go if you want to learn,” she says. “The instructors there will give you every opportunity to enrich your educational experience as far as you want to take it. You have to be willing to embrace a new experience, and you can grow as much as you want.”
A transferrable Associate of Arts, however, was just the beginning. She had many tough questions to answer moving forward, namely how would she afford higher education and how would it fit into her already packed schedule as a nontraditional student. While working full-time and raising two children, Luper had to figure out how to continue pursuing her goals.
“Not only did State Fair give me the learning environment I needed, but they [faculty] were very much interested in making sure I was a successful student who could segue into the professional community. Whatever my choice was, they were willing to get me to that next step,” Luper explains.
Her mentors at State Fair led her to William Woods University in Columbia, where she attended classes one night a week for 18 months to obtain her bachelor’s.
From there, Luper began the exhilarating, frightening and eye-opening experience of law school at Washburn University. Washburn demanded excellence of its students, and Luper found a new sense of purpose in the challenges.
“It was just the opportunity to help people who needed it, and to me, I think that is where I became most intrigued,” Luper explains. “For my analytical mind, it was very satisfying to be able to take someone’s problem, research the issues and find a solution so that they can move on.”
These educational institutions, Luper says, not only provided the grounds for personal and professional development but also ensured their students would continue thriving outside the classroom.
She says, “From State Fair to William Woods to Washburn, there’s one common thread that runs through all of those educational bodies, and that is the instructors, professors and staff are very much geared toward student success.”
Once she had been admitted to the Missouri Bar, Luper had to trust in herself and the quality of her training.
“I was terrified on a number of different levels,” Luper remembers of her transition from law student to attorney. “I will never forget it; my very first court appearance was for a very simple trial setting. It took less than five minutes, and my palms were sweating unbelievably.”
Luper had the same anxious experience when she first started as a secretary. With any job, Luper explains, nerves arise from a combination of the unknown, as well as the expectations you set on yourself.
“My parents always told me nerves are good,” she says. “If you’re doing something important, you should have the nerves that require you to perform at your very best every time.”
After the first month, Luper earned her confidence in the courtroom, but she never lets herself get too comfortable. She constantly adapts and builds off her strong educational base to provide the best service to her clients.
And Luper could not ask for a better clientele to serve.
“That’s one thing about the Sedalia area; the community is an incredible group of people who really do care for one another. We’re lucky to be here,” she says, having established her practice in Sedalia’s historic downtown area.
Luper’s true center of support is her family, whose encouragement was critical to making her education possible.
“For us, State Fair has been a cornerstone of our educational experiences,” Luper says. “I believe in the school. I believe in what the school is about and what they have to offer.”
SFCC has had a tremendous impact on Luper’s family with her children following in her footsteps as students and her husband working as an art instructor at the Sedalia campus.
Luper understands that a supportive home life is not a reality for everyone.
“I feel for those students who are doing it on their own,” she says. “For them, I’d encourage them to take advantage of the support from the faculty at State Fair. It’s there. They just need the courage to seek it out. They will find a family at State Fair.”
Story by Jackson Ingram
Summer 2017 Communications Intern
Marketing and Communications