Indiana State Senate’s chief-of-staff and chief legal counsel Jeff Papa knows the value of education and is sharing that knowledge with young people around the world.
More than two decades and several diplomas later, Jeff Papa expects to complete his final degree — a doctorate in education administration and leadership — at Indiana State University next year.It’s been a long road for the chief-of-staff and chief legal counsel for the Indiana State Senate. Papa was a first-generation student at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1993 with a bachelor of science in economics and began an internship with the Indiana State Senate.
His push to get an education started when he was growing up in Elkhart. While Papa’s parents did not attend college, they stressed to him the importance of an education, and it was his mother who made sure he knew how to read before starting school.
“My mom didn’t know how to advise me, but she knew the importance of my getting an education,” Papa said. “My education is what has always helped me get ahead, but it hasn’t always been easy. With every degree I’ve earned, including high school, I worked full-time while going to school.”
Papa went on to receive a master’s degree in business economics from Ball State University, as well as a juris doctor and a master of laws degree from Indiana University.
“As chief of staff for the Senate, I’m involved in discussions about legislation, and I’m also involved in several charter school boards. Higher education is something that interests me and leadership fits together with that,” Papa said, adding that a doctorate in educational leadership and administration will help if he decides in the future to pursue a career in university administration.
In the meantime, Papa is busy as president and co-founder of YETI, Youth Enhancement and Training Initiative — an organization that built and operates an orphanage in Nepal and supports underprivileged children in Indiana.
Papa, who is certified to teach English as a second language, taught in Nepal and Korea and has spent a great deal of time abroad, including summers in Russia, Ukraine and Korea and working on a volunteer project in Mongolia. He also studied law in France, China, Brazil and Mexico, served as an adjunct professor of law and was appointed as a consulting attorney by the Mexican government in 2006.
Three years after volunteering with a group in Nepal, Papa and a friend contacted the group via email to ask about the possibility of starting an orphanage in the country.
Two weeks went by without a response before Papa received an email from his contacts in Nepal, who said research about an orphanage was complete, including site visits to orphanages, estimated costs, discussions with government officials about permits needed for building an orphanage, and architects were working on rough sketches for a building.
“The original plan for the orphanage was to get the kids adopted, but over time, the kids established bonds and didn’t want to be split up. We don’t want to force them to go to strange places with people they don’t know, so we continue raising money to fund the orphanage and are keeping the kids together,” Papa said. “I’ve traveled to many places in the third world, and I’ve seen starving people and destitute places firsthand. Having grown up with limited means myself, the things I saw abroad made me think about what I could do to impact these places.”