In 2000, Dori Pap came to the United States to play volleyball for the Yellow Jackets, and she never left. Today she is the managing director for Georgia Tech’s Institute for Leadership and Social Impact (formerly the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship).
“I have been in Atlanta 20 years, which is incredible,” Pap said. “I never thought I’d stay this long, but it grew on me.”
Pap (pronounced “pop”) was born in western Romania, in a region called Transylvania. She usually doesn’t mention that because “it stops the conversation” and starts a new one about vampires or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“I grew up during communism, so there were no outside pop culture references at all,” she said, explaining how the American fascination with vampires and a particular film character were new to her when she arrived in the U.S.
Back in Romania, Pap’s love of athletics started early. Her father was a rally race car driver and a sports enthusiast. “My dad put me on skis at three years old,” she said. She also participated in fencing, handball, and track. She was introduced to volleyball at age nine.
“I was walking down the street with my sister. A gentleman, who was a volleyball coach, came up to us and asked me, ‘How tall are you?’ Then he asked, ‘How tall are your parents?’ I answered him, and he said, ‘Let’s go talk to your parents.’”
Pap is 6 feet 2 inches tall and has been that height since she was 13. Three years later, she began playing professional volleyball, although it was not considered professional by U.S. standards. She moved to Bucharest and played there for a couple of years. Then she moved to Hungary and played for a few more years before being recruited to play at Georgia Tech in 2000.
From Hungary to Midtown Atlanta
“Coach Shelton Collier recruited me,” Pap said. “He was a great coach. I’m grateful that he saw something in me that was worth the trip to Hungary and worth extending a full ride to Georgia Tech. He really changed my life and played a big role in where I am today.
“Volleyball was great. It was great to be in a beautiful gym and in nice, new outfits with girls who were excited about the same things that I was and spoke the same language,” Pap said.
And she made lifelong friendships with her fellow players. “I probably value my friendships more than any of the outcomes of the games. After 16 or 17 years that is what matters,” she said. “Being at Georgia Tech was always more than just being on the court and winning.”
Pap earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in international affairs from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. She also earned an MBA. Now she is pursuing a doctorate in higher education administration at the University of Georgia.
Life at Tech
Pap has been with the Institute for Leadership and Social Impact (formerly ILE) since 2006. She went to work with Terry Blum, former dean of the Scheller College of Business until she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. That was 14 years ago.
“So, I either haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life yet, or this is what I want to do,” she joked. “It has been a very rewarding experience. Terry is one of those outstanding mentors who knows when to push you and when to support you. I have been very lucky to grow under her mentorship.”
The Institute for Leadership and Social Impact facilitates a study abroad program that takes undergraduates to Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic and exposes them to the nonprofit sector in that part of the world. The center also manages the Ideas to Serve competition for students who are passionate about social issues and want to create a better, more humane society. And the center presents the Impact Speaker Series, bringing in leaders and entrepreneurs.
Pap also teaches the Capstone Course for the leadership minor at Georgia Tech. “I very much enjoy working with students,” she said. “It’s the hardest part of my job. It takes a lot of mental and emotional preparation to make sure that I’m doing it well and to the best of my abilities.”
With a full-time job, academic pursuits, and a family, Pap has a very busy life that no longer includes volleyball. Today she is into tennis and yoga. “As a former college athlete, struggling to touch your toes or balance on one leg keeps you humble,” she said with a smile.
Written by Victor Rogers