Key Connections: Bismarck attorney found the right fit in his own backyard | Bismarck State College

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Key Connections: Bismarck attorney found the right fit in his own backyard

Posted: May 22 2020
Key Connections: Bismarck attorney found the right fit in his own backyard
Feeling like you’re at home is a consideration for a lot of incoming college students as they research schools and tour campuses. Is a college too big? Is it big enough? Is it too far away? Should it be farther?

For Justin Vinje when considering BSC, he was home. Growing up just south of Bismarck and attending eighth through twelfth grades in town meant this community was his. “There were a number of classmates and friends, if I’m being honest, that chose to continue on at BSC and that really factored in for me. I loved high school. I had really good friends here and I wanted to stay here,” said Vinje. “Some people can’t wait to get out of the house and be their own person. But I liked what was going on at the time and was happy to keep doing it.”

Friendships are an important bond for any student to feel engrained in their surroundings. It’s no secret a sense of belonging is what supports well-being and can improve a student’s academic outcomes. Yet, for Justin, the familiarity of Bismarck layered in an even more defining quality that he hadn’t even expected: connection to his instructors. “I don’t know that it was the first thing in my mind at the time, but I thought that the faculty to student ratio was really good. We got as much one-on-one interaction with the professors as we wanted. If I try to put myself back into my 18- or 19 -year-old self, I know I benefitted from that. It impacts your education and choices that you make moving forward.”

One instructor, Dr. Barb Perry, ended up as his advisor. She was also local to Bismarck and knew Justin’s uncle Kent. “People who are instructing you having roots in the community was beneficial. It gives you a common bond and a greater interaction. Dr. Perry was a lot of fun to talk to.”

She was also a great instructor and Justin feels that because of taking her speech classes, he was able to serve as one of the commencement speakers when he graduated in 1999. Incidentally, that experience led to another lifelong connection, as well. His co-commencement speaker Linda Volk was a non-traditional student at BSC when non-traditional students were less common. They met through that shared opportunity, which sparked a lifelong friendship.

“I really had a lot of gratitude for the institution and recognized that many students came from different backgrounds than mine, yet BSC allowed us all to succeed.”

By the time he earned his degree, Justin felt the calling to spread his wings and he joined the Army National Guard, where he was trained in journalism at the Defense Information School in Baltimore, Md. But, just like in his decision to go to BSC, his connection to home and family continued to shape who he was and what he ultimately dreamed for himself. In his heart he knew he wanted to be a lawyer and practice with his dad in Bismarck. “People who knew me growing up, I think, always knew I was going to be a lawyer, but I was unsure until I got a little older.”

To pursue that dream, he moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., to complete his four-year degree at Augustana. He saw this as a very natural extension to BSC in that faculty were rooted in the community and it was a beautiful campus. Again, he felt at home. He journeyed north to law school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks in the fall of 2002. It was there that another major life moment occurred – he met his wife, Tiffany. 

Tiffany and Justin were in the same law class at UND, but when his Guard unit was activated in the spring of 2003, he had to wait until the following spring to re-enroll, which meant she graduated a year ahead of him. They married and bought their first house in 2006, just a few blocks from where his dad grew up in Bismarck.

Justin and his dad, Ralph, were very close. As a kid, they rode together every morning the 30 miles into Bismarck from their small ranch. So, getting to practice law with him was a very special opportunity. Ralph had his own firm from 1977 until he passed away suddenly in 2009. “I got to work with him for three years and I got a really good foundation. I learned how to do the work of an attorney, but I thought I would learn how to run a business over a longer period of time. Imagine someone in mid-stride and then they are gone, and you have to pick up the pieces. I didn’t really have much of a window for grieving. I just worked and worked and worked. I wasn’t expecting to run my own office with only three years of experience.”

Despite the challenge, Justin made it work. Today, he and Tiffany run Vinje Law Firm on Avenue C, just one block north from where his dad’s office was. And, although Bismarck has changed dramatically since his time at BSC, it’s still home and it’s a good feeling to be raising his family where he was raised.

The foundation he earned at BSC helped create the life he and his family have now and it is a path he’s proud to have taken.
“There are compelling reasons to attend BSC. It’s an excellent education, a good community, there are good people, it’s safe, it’s pretty and there’s a dramatic change in seasons you don’t get to see everywhere in the United States,” he said. “Any college can be what you make of it, but I strongly believe that it’s a benefit to have close access to professors and that major advantage exists at BSC.”