BYU student Kyrie Papenfuss often felt lonely as her family moved from Japan, to Texas, to Boston, to Los Angeles, to the Bay Area, back to Japan and then to Utah.
But when people think of Papenfuss, they think of an extroverted, driven leader who can easily connect with anyone.
“Kyrie is so incredibly fearless,” close friend and BYUSA coworker Jakob Fjeldsted said.
Papenfuss said people may not ever guess connecting with others can be difficult sometimes for her.
“I definitely see her as a leader in her community, fighting for the rights of those underserved,” said BYU Women’s Services and Resources Director Dixie Sevison.
Papenfuss said she knows the extroverted leadership side of herself has directly come from knowing what feeling left out is like. Moving so often created a soft spot for those who feel marginalized or in the minority.
Growing up all over the world has led her to love people and appreciate diversity, she said. She sees people as diverse, not because of ethnicity alone, but because of the unique makeup of each individual.
“A lot of people tend to define a diverse person by their race or socioeconomic status or country they’re from. But moving around has shown me that diversity comes in so many other ways,” Papenfuss said. “Diversity is not just your sexuality or your faith or the color of skin; there are so many other factors that make people diverse.”
Service and support through leadership
Papenfuss worked at the BYU Women’s Services and Resources office for two and a half years as the marketing and event coordinator on campaigns. She oversaw events regarding emotional and domestic abuse, pornography, assault and eating disorders.
While at Women’s Services and Resources, she also got involved with BYUSA and became the Honor vice president. She was placed over several campaigns, including overseeing the first year of BYU’s PEN talks.
Papenfuss said she especially loved working on PEN talks during her time at BYUSA because of her passion for reaching out to those who may feel marginalized because of their beliefs, character or color of skin. PEN talks gave panelists the opportunity to discuss their experiences as students.
She said she also headed Freshman Honor Week, and the Mental Health Matters, Light Our Campus, Service Squad and Y-Wishes campaigns.
As Women’s Services and Resources director, Sevison saw the great level of connection Papenfuss made with everyone who visited the office. She expressed immense gratitude for being given the chance to know and work with Papenfuss.
“I don’t know if Kyrie really understands how unique her talents and skills are. She’s a connector of all walks of life,” Sevison said.
She often thinks of an event Papenfuss had planned for Women’s Services and Resources. Sevison said when the staff showed up before the event started, they realized almost every single thing had gone wrong in set-up and organization.
“Instead of falling apart, Kyrie just engaged all of us to help her,” Sevison said. “Afterwards, I told Kyrie nobody knew everything had fallen apart. Everyone had wanted to help her because she had laid foundations of great relationships with every single person.”
BYU political science senior Jakob Fjeldsted’s relationship with Papenfuss goes all the way back to the same hospital in Japan, where they were both born.
Fjeldsted said his and Papenfuss’ families were close friends and the two students reconnected at BYU. He became a BYUSA executive director under Papenfuss during her time as Honor vice president.
Fjeldsted believes Papenfuss to be one of the most organized human beings he’s ever met. He has seen her use planners, whiteboards, Google Calendar and printed copies of meeting agendas to keep her busy life in order. He said her work ethic is what he admires most about her, and she prioritizes making people feel valued and planning in advance.
Fjeldsted often reflects on a surprise birthday party Papenfuss threw for him, with everyone on their BYUSA team in attendance. Papenfuss served his favorite Japanese curry and had everyone write personalized notes for him.
“That experience illustrates Kyrie really well. We were in the middle of a ton of prep work for fall service projects and campaigns,” he said. “She often makes people feel very special for the things that make them special.”
He praised her ability to tell him or others when a mistake is being made, but in a way that will help them progress.
“I have seen Kyrie in more circumstances than anyone else: intimate family gatherings, parties, professional settings, BYUSA meetings, the MTC, BYU classes. Throughout all of these places and settings, she’s never afraid of anyone or anything,” Fjeldsted said.
“No conversation or interview is too hard for Kyrie. She’s not afraid to make herself known — like I said before, she’s fearless.”