For more than four decades, college students across Indiana have had the chance to learn more about government and serve their state through legislative internships at the Indiana Statehouse.
Jeff Papa, MA ’99, was one of those students, when he was still completing his undergraduate degree in economics. And while he couldn’t have known it then, it’s easy for the chief of staff and chief legal counsel for the Indiana Senate to now see that his life has revolved around education — acquiring it for himself and doing what he can to help others have access to it.
Papa has plotted his path by making the most of any opportunity. It was true of his Statehouse internship — he applied mostly out of curiosity — and continues today in his professional and personal lives, heading an office of nearly 150 staffers when the General Assembly is in session, pursing a doctorate in education leadership and continuing his work with the Youth Enhancement and Training Initiative orphanage he founded in Nepal more than a decade ago.
“Everything I’ve ever been involved with goes back to education,” Papa said. “Finding creative solutions to problems and helping people find their paths.”
The opportunity to mentor and coach is one of the things he values most about his role, working not only with the student interns but continuing that guidance when, as happens routinely, the interns return to the Statehouse as full-time staff members.
“Almost 90 percent of our employees were interns,” Papa said.
Newly appointed Ball State Trustee Mike McDaniel, ’73 MPA ’79, was instrumental in the creation of the internship program. McDaniel is also a former director of governmental affairs at Ball State and former director of what is now the Bowen Center for Public Affairs.
The different backgrounds and unique experiences each student brings as an intern become especially valuable when those people transition into a full-time position. It’s not about party or politics but public service.
“I think the coolest thing is meeting people from every background you could imagine, every education you could imagine, every family experience, and we all come together because we want to make the state better,” said Andy Bauman, ’06, reading clerk/head of reception for the Senate. He credits Ball State’s long tradition with the program as part of the reason so many students, then alumni, stay connected to state government.
“The support from the school and the support of the alumni is incredible,” he said, adding that it’s not uncommon for alumni to reach out to Cardinal interns and offer places for the students to stay during the session.
“It’s cool to see that connectivity,” he said.
That’s true not just between the alumni and interns but across the staff.
Morgan Perrill, ’05, was a marketing major when she interned but now serves as director of legislative operations for Indiana House Republicans.
“After I did the internship, I knew this was where I wanted to come to work,” she said. “It’s fun to find connections with people you know. And you have an opportunity to make a difference.”
That service component is a common denominator across the staff, said Tyler Campbell, ’05, adding that a Statehouse internship is good experience for any student.
“You get as much out of it as you put into it,” Campbell said. “The ability to speak respectfully with people of all backgrounds and ideas. Even if you don’t want to be in politics, the experience is invaluable.”
Danielle Wheat, ’18, is counting on that.
Wheat, who will be one of the 100 or so interns for the next session of the General Assembly, has been looking forward to this since she was in eighth grade.
“I was a legislative page for three years in a row. I’ve always had an interest in politics and government, and I fell in love with the Indiana Statehouse when I was a page,” Wheat said. “I told my family that I would intern there one day. I had no idea what kind of intern I wanted to be six years ago, but I knew I wanted to be one and that I would do anything to make that happen.”