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As Visions of Retirement Vanish, Older Worker Finds New Career Training Opportunity at Community College

“After moving to Houston with my parents in the early 1970s and working a couple of years in retail and as a mechanic, I went to work for Houston Lighting and Power on Oct. 8, 1979,” the affable husband and father said. “I began as a lineman, climbing poles, and after 18 years, was offered a job in the company’s distribution control center, where I worked for close to a decade.”


After being pink-slipped, Kupferer, 55, was devastated. “I was depressed for, literally, months although I found a job and went back to work almost immediately…because I had no other choice,” he remembered.


Going back as a lineman for KBR in Deer Park, Kupferer worked in the clean-up effort after Hurricane Ike before being laid off again. This time, he started drawing unemployment.


That’s when the Magnolia resident began doing a lot of reading and soul-searching about what career direction he wanted to pursue. “I had always enjoyed working with computers,” Kupferer said, “and all my hobbies were computer-related, which led me to the dot.net programming classes I’m taking now at Lone Star College-North Harris.”


Originally exploring the closest college campus–which was Lone Star College-Tomball–the former lineman investigated the classes that would equip him to become a programmer. He soon discovered that LSC-North Harris had the exact computer classes and program he was seeking. This led to taking an assessment test, which found his greatest strengths to be in mathematics. “I started with an English class and was advised to speak with the Texas Workforce Commission.”


In the meantime, Kupferer and his wife worried about how much preparation for his new career would cost, but then agreed it was something he needed to do. “That’s when the people at the Workforce Commission said they would pay for the specialized programming certificate I was going for,” Kupferer said.


For someone who graduated from high school in 1972, going back to the classroom after more than 30 years was a daunting prospect, but Kupferer said he was energized and excited about the possibilities. “I took my first computer class and an English class online,” he said. “I began the Introduction to Programming class online, but decided it would be more worthwhile to take that class in the classroom…and yes, it was pretty scary,” he added. “I was the oldest person in the class, but I was surprised to find I was doing as well as everyone else in the class.


“I think key to my positive experience was the instructor. She made me feel pretty good and understood I was there to learn…and that it was important, because it was a prerequisite class,” the new student continued. “She knew I was a serious student and was difference between me and the younger students in some cases.”


His 16-year-old daughter thought her father had gone crazy. “It took a lot of discussing about how I was going to achieve my goals–and how we would manage to pay for it since I was on unemployment,” he admitted. “The whole thing was up for discussion.”


Now that he’s proven himself (three A’s and one B), Kupferer’s daughter likes the fact that her father made the decision to go back to school. “She’s trying not to be too proud, but she thinks it’s a good thing,” he said, “and my wife’s daughter who just graduated from high school now sees the wisdom of beginning her college career at a community college.”


He’s been surprised at the support he’s received from the faculty and staff at LSC-North Harris, and he’s already planning to use the college’s career placement services as well as assistance from the Texas Workforce Commission to move into his new profession.


“My classes are almost like one-on-one training,” Kupferer said. “One class only had five people and, even in larger classes, you’re invited to ask questions, to get help when you need it…and the more classes I take, the more I realize how beneficial it is to be at a smaller school.”


Kupferer said he likes the personal interest professors take in their students. “My Intro professor told me if I needed anything, to call…and now that I’m taking C++ and Visual Basic, he is helping me with the C++ class I’m taking online,” he said. “Everyone I’ve had as a professor has been great.


“My speech teacher was also amazing. It was one course I had to take–Interpersonal Communication– and it was the best class I’ve taken. The class was so diverse, age wise and ethnically–and what impressed me about the class is I now have new hope for the younger generation. I’ve raised kids and I’ve been worried about the next generation, but after seeing kids in a college classroom, I have new hope everything’s going to be okay. They communicated, they were thoughtful, they worked hard on the class, they listened and they talked about things that gave me new insights–so I learned a lot from them.”


He’s also been inspired to think about the possibilities. “Seeing these teachers and how they’re sharing what they’ve learned, it inspired me to think about someday being able to share, myself,” Kupferer said, “and I hope what I’m doing is challenging my daughter and my step-daughter to look at stepping up their own performance. They definitely don’t want to underperform after the pace their old man has set.”


To complete his certification, Kupferer is required to complete eight classes plus an internship–and he’s already completed four. He’s also trying to line up an internship with an area school district…and now the devastation of being laid off has all but disappeared.


“I’m excited,” he admitted, “and I’m hoping -- as soon as I’ve finished this summer semester -- I’ll be able to get my foot in the door. I’ve read about a lot of companies who have let people my age go, but I’ve also read about companies who are looking for people my age because they’re looking for somebody that has the leadership, loyalty, work ethic and the benefits older people can bring to the workplace, rather than waiting for younger employees to mature. Yeah,” he added. “I think I’ve got a lot of things going for me.”


Once he completes his certificate, he’s planning to continue on to earn his associate’s degree. 


“I’m just amazed–and everything just seems to be falling into place,” the former utility lineman concluded. “When I need help, it’s there–and it’s a really good feeling. The class I’m taking now–we’re building programs. We’re supposed to get out at 9, but a lot of us are there 30 minutes later…and we’re having a blast. I’m taking so much away from every class and it’s a positive experience.”


“Even as hard as it’s been, this journey is definitely worth it,” he said. “I want to do something to help someone. I want what I do to have a positive impact, to help somebody out, to make a difference in somebody’s life.”


Lone Star College-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 E, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: NorthHarris.LoneStar.edu.


Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.




July 2, 2009



Media Contact:

C.C. Sutphen

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281.639.6381, cell  

July 2, 2009