Jackson College transfer student transitions from prison to public relations

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January 22, 2020

There was a time when public relations student Kevin Papuga only wanted to play soccer and lacked ambition or direction for anything else in life.  It was this lack of direction that led to him dropping out of two schools following the completion of their soccer seasons, and it wasn’t long after that Papuga found himself in prison for armed robbery. While his incarceration was at that point the lowest moment in his life, it also made Papuga realize he had to change some things in his life, starting with his academics.

               Kevin Papuga speaks at Transitions 2.0

Papuga came to Wayne State University as a transfer from the Jackson College Prison Education Initiative program. Achieving a 4.0 throughout the course of his studies at Jackson earned Papuga the Gold Transfer Scholarship, paving the road for his journey to WSU. “I was so thrilled that my hard work at Jackson College was recognized,” said Papuga. “Getting a 4.0 wasn’t easy, but receiving that scholarship told me that others could see I am serious about my education. “

Papuga initially was not eligible for the Jackson College Prison Education Initiative program as he did not have enough time left in his incarceration to qualify. His mother contacted the program and got him accepted as part of their Self-Pay program, which allows students who don’t qualify for financial aid to pay through a sponsor.  Papuga had access to more courses than he did in his initial prison program and was able to be a full-time student including summer school. Papuga was able to get to 60 credits at Jackson and get his General Studies associate’s degree before he had finished his sentence.

Papuga spoke highly of his professors at Jackson and said that despite the atypical makeup of the classrooms and the off-hours it took to bring them in, they were enthusiastic and helped foster a creative, thoughtful learning environment. While Papuga’s backup plan was to return to Saginaw Valley, he says his goal was to go to WSU.

“Wayne piqued my interest primarily because of its location in the city and the endless opportunities that are afforded in its setting,” said Papuga. “Upon my release I was able to attend Admitted Students Day where I walked the campus and engaged with staff, and students, from my department. There was a reminiscent feeling of home coupled with an excitement bubbling on the surface of an unknown landscape; I knew Wayne State is where I wanted to be.”

During Admitted Students Day, Papuga met and spoke with staff from the Transfer Student Success Center, where he will be working soon as a Transfer Student Ambassador. Papuga will be answering questions on behalf of the department, participate in special events, and “serve as a role model and person of support.” Papuga says he wants to share his story and the things he’s learned with as many people as he can reach and show that it’s never too late to change your path if you recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

“That was a turning point in my life because it was the first time I had to take that objective look in the mirror and realize that my life was a direct result of my choices,” said Papuga. “It was the first time in my life that I truly realized actions had consequences. I feel like I’m one of the very small percentage who can look back at their time of incarceration and truly say that they have been blessed, and that it was transformative.”

Papuga now hopes to be involved in higher education as a communications professor once he has obtained his master’s degree. “I’ve read you can either have a job, a career, or a calling,” said Papuga. “Being a professor is my calling because it opens a myriad of doors in both the private and public sectors of our society. And I am an individual who does not like to be placed inside of a box. Pun intended.”

By Jacob Stocking, OIP communications associate

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