The sky's the limit: ATCC student Juan Zamora brings skills to Long Prairie law office

By Jason C. Brown, Publisher/Editor of the Long Prairie Leader
This story originally appeared October 23, 2019 on the Long Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, entitled Juan Zamora joins Jean Gustafson as a paralegal.

Jean Gustafson, Juan Zamora, and ATCC President Michael Seymour stand in front of an American flag background

Long Prairie Attorney Jean Gustafson thought she had found her niche in the legal community as a specialist in elder law, and by all accounts she had, but after starting her practice in Long Prairie and seeing how diverse Long Prairie was, she felt something was missing, and she wanted her practice to grow.

How that was going to happen she wasn’t entirely sure, so she began a simple search for a paralegal, someone who could grow with her practice and complement it as well. At the advice of others, Gustafson gave Alexandria Technical & Community College a call to see if they had any prospective students who might be interested in an internship. It just so happened they did.

Enter Juan Zamora. Zamora was a former student at the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle School District. Though he would graduate from the Albany High School, Zamora found his way back to Long Prairie and worked at LSC Communications in the bindery prior to its closing.

Zamora, like many second generation Hispanics in the area, was just concerned about making a good living and taking life maybe a step or two beyond what his parents started.

But then something happened, something that could’ve been a roadblock in life for many, but it wasn’t for him—LSC closed.

When LSC closed the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development provided a number of programs for the displaced workers affected by the closure. It was through some of the program testing that Zamora found he had an aptitude for the law and that a career as a paralegal might be a good option.

Zamora said other than that, he would’ve been left with trying find work at Long Prairie’s, Dan’s Prize or somewhere else entirely, but he liked the area, and took the chance with a secondary education. Through DEED and Alex Tech he was able to navigate the student loan process and get enrolled in the paralegal program.

It was during a meeting with one of his instructors that these two found each other. Gustafson had called the instructor to see about a potential internship student for her practice in Long Prairie—it just so happened that Zamora was in the room when that phone call came through.

Zamora’s instructor told Gustafson that she had just the student for her. She said she had a student who was bilingual, Hispanic, and from Long Prairie. This was very appealing to Gustafson who wanted to be able to offer her services to a wider range of clientele and more adequately represent the entirety of the Long Prairie community.

Now, Zamora is primarily taking his classes online and working 30 hours a week through his internship with Gustafson.

Zamora found that Alex Tech was the right decision for him. “If you’re from the area, Alex is the better one, it’s more rural,” Zamora said.

“I felt like it was a better fit for me. It feels like I can tell my instructors anything.”

His professional focus in school is bankruptcy and real estate, and Gustafson is in the process of adapting her practice to fit the resources she now has available.

Michael Seymour, President of Alex Tech added that this was a true success story, not only for Zamora and Gustafson, but for the college as well.

“Higher education has to attract students from all backgrounds,” Seymour explained.

“Our hope as a college is that all students feel welcomed because a lot of this can be foreign to them. We have to understand that and guide these students through the process. We want to elevate our services for all students."

Like Zamora, President Seymour is a second generation Hispanic-American, so he took heart at the effort and the chance that Zamora took.

“The sky’s the limit right?” Seymour said to Zamora.