Scholar Spotlight: Betelhem Tewodros (MSU ’22) Discusses her COVID-19 Assistance Project for the Members of Her Hometown of Jijiga, Ethiopia

We recently had the pleasure of virtually sitting down with current Puksta Scholar Betelhem “Betty” Tewodros to discuss the work her and her father have been doing to help the people of her hometown of Jijiga, Ethiopia. Watch now below:

Betty was only eight years old when she left Jijiga with her family to come to America, but her heart has always been and will always be back home. For her, maintaining her native language and culture are a central aspect of her identity and daily life. Although she is based in Denver now, she still attends a traditional Ethiopian church, stays active in the local Ethipoian community, and celebrates Ethiopian holidays. Along with all the work she has done to make sure Jijiga stay a part of her life, she’s also made sure to keep her life a part of Jijiga.

When a family friend in Jijiga shared stories of difficulty and need on Facebook, Betty and her father were inspired to do whatever they could to help. She’s always understood that living in America puts her in a position to have a great ability to help those back home. They started a GoFundMe page and gathered the Ethiopian community in America to provide support in the form of masks, hand sanitizers, food and other basic needs to help her community get through these times. Through her work so far, her and her father have raised over $6,000.

Betty credits community elders like her grandmother for instilling this spirit of service and generosity in her. Respect for elders is a pillar of Ethiopia’s culture. With the first fundraising campaign having come to an end, and life slowly getting back to normal in Jijiga, Betty is now gearing up to launch a second campaign specifically to help the elders in Jijiga. For them, normal will come much later than it will for younger generations. Being higher risk, and less capable of managing daily tasks, the elders will be the ones that need the most help. Still, the duty of helping elders is one that Betty is more than willing to take on. In her eyes, there is no work more important than helping the generation that spent their lives raising the community she loves. Betty wants to do everything she can to pay this generation back, and set an example for other young people to do the same.


Puksta Alum William Mundo Celebrates ARCS Award and Announces New Book on Equity in Medicine

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” It’s an old adage, but one that certainly applies to Puksta alum and Student Doctor William Mundo. Through a global health pandemic and growing inequality he has not only persevered, but strived, in his relentless pursuit for medical education and health equity for marginalized communities. Mundo is the latest recipient of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS), which recognizes and aids exceptional young minds in the STEM fields. Former students also recognized by the ARCS foundation include famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and medical inventor Peter McDonnell.

Mundo’s achievement is well-deserved, especially considering the challenges of adversity he endured as a minority student in medicine and higher education. He details this journey in his upcoming book, Margins to Medicine: A First-Generation Student’s Health Equity Guide on Overcoming Adversity with Diversity. Mundo describes the book as “an in-depth exploration that explains how the understanding of medicine and its relationship with public health equity is a vital framework that we can utilize to overcome health inequities in our country.” He hopes that his writing inspires other medical professionals and allies to promote justice in public health.

You can join his book launch team here and contribute to his book here.


Puksta Alum Nicholas Martinez Fights Local Violence with Neighborhood Mural Project

Amidst times of unrest and uncertainty, Puksta Alum and Southwest Denver local, Nicholas Martinez, is leading the way to unite his community through art. Like many other Denver neighborhoods, his has seen a rise in violence over the last six months. Resiliently, he proclaims that his community is “not willing to stand by and allow it to continue to affect our neighborhoods.” He and many other have every right to be angry and frustrated, but Martinez is directing that energy towards something more positive.

In response to this violence, Martinez and other community members have started a mural project that will be displayed at the Kepner Middle School campus. “Part of our solution to stand agains that violence is to bring our community together and create a public message of remembrance and hope,” said Martinez.

“We can’t do this without our community” said Martinez. Local artists, organizers, youth, and educators, have all come together to begin bringing this project to the neighborhood. Still, help is always needed and appreciated. Martinez has set up this GoFundMe page for supporters to contribute in any way they can.


Our very own Puksta Alum – Travis Macy competing in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji

Today is the Premiere of the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, hosted by Bear Grylls on Amazon Prime Video. And it comes to no surprise that one of our very own CU Puksta Alumni ’05, Travis Macy (a finisher of over 120 ultra-endurance events in 17 countries), is one of the competitors in this 11-day physically demanding, emotionally testing adventure race. 

Some of you Puksta Scholars and Alumni may remember Travis as he and his wife, Amy Macy (also a CU Puksta Alum ’04!) came to speak at our most recent winter retreat in Denver. The theme for that weekend was resiliency, a topic that was perfectly suited for this couple’s wealth of knowledge and experiences. 

Today we have the chance to watch Travis test his emotional and physical resiliency with our own eyes as he navigates this race, not only by himself but with his father Mark. Travis grew up watching his dad compete in Ironmans, ultra-marathons, and Eco Challenges starting back in 1995. Either this spirit of competition is contagious or it can be attributed to genetics because Travis followed right in his dad’s rugged, mud-stomped footprints. Mark Macy was originally set to complete on a different team than Travis’s, but after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s it didn’t seem like the right fit and he had to consider the additional support he would need. So, father and son decided to join forces on Team Endure! A name that seems to conform to the spirit of the people that make up this team, which also consists of a professional whitewater paddler, and a woman who survived two nights alone in the desert after a deadly fall before being rescued by her dog. 

Team Endure pushes forward through this race for another purpose and that is to promote organ/tissue donation and mental health. Travis’s mom had a fatal liver disease and thankfully received a life-saving liver from a deceased donor, and through the years has also needed two kidney transplants to continue living. She is now doing well and to give back, Travis’s father Mark, donated his own kidney in 2008. Travis says “Organ donation is dear to my heart, and I seek here to support a cause that saves lives.”

Mental health has also come onto Travis’s radar through his work with endurance athletes and the pressures that come with high-intensity training and overall well being. He hopes that sharing openly about his own experience with depression may empower others to seek help, move forward, and partner in camaraderie. 

With a foundation of friends and family and honoring what is truly important in this life, I can’t help but be completely in love with this team and everything that they stand for. I am looking forward to watching their journey from start to finish. 

*Click here to listen to Adventure Audios’s Podcast where Mark and Travis about their recent competition in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji.

*Besides being an amazing Puksta Alumni, Travis is also speaker, author, coach, professional endurance athlete, and the author of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life

TEAM ENDURE: Travis Macy, Mark Macy, Danelle Ballengee, Shane Sigle, and Andrew Speers

~NiChel Mulstay, Director of Development and Community Outreach


Puksta COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund

What is happening at Puksta?

The impact of COVID-19 on our Puksta Scholars has been devastating.

Several of our Puksta Scholars have lost family members to this virus, many are dealing with the loss of their jobs and income, most have lost their housing and access to food, and almost all have struggled to maintain the support systems they had prior to the pandemic.

In the 20+ years that the Puksta Foundation has been providing scholarships, we have never faced a challenge like we see today to provide our scholars with the programming and support that has proven to be so important to our students who are coming from underresourced and marginalized communities.

What can we do now?

The best action that we can take right now is to reach out to ask for your help in creating a “COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.” The purpose of this fund will be to provide immediate financial support to our Puksta Scholars who are facing growing challenges meeting their basic human needs of food, shelter, access to healthcare, and adequate technology to continue their education remotely.

Our goal is to raise $50,000 which will be set aside and made available for our current Puksta Scholars to apply for on a case-by-case basis with any funds remaining when the immediate need subsides being made available for scholarship funding.

None of us knows where this pandemic will take us, but we do know that our students have a need today that is far above our normal funding for scholarships, programming, and community projects, and, we want to be there to help them through this time.

We do hope you will partner with us in our effort to raise the Puksta Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

With gratitude,

John Mulstay

President/Founder

Puksta Foundation


Reflections From Puksta Graduate Blanche Ndoutou (DU ’20)

DU Puksta Scholar Blanche Ndoutou (’22) recently wrote a thoughtful piece discussing her journey and experiences as a Puksta Scholar through the DU Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning’s “Public Good Impact” newsletter. Reflecting on the evolution of her Puksta project, Blanche explained,

Puksta taught me how to be a leader. It taught me that it is okay for my passions to change in life. I came into the program wanting to work on helping newly arrived refugees adapt to Denver, however, I realized that although I cared about this topic, it was not my strength. I needed to focus on something that I am passionate about and something that I can be good at. Therefore, I merged my criminology major and my Puksta project. I decided to help educate the youth in my neighborhood of Sun Valley, the poorest neighborhood in Denver, about the realities of the criminal justice system in the United States. I realized that I made the right decision when I saw that the youth were learning something from me that might possibly save their lives. This project became personal and I decided that I will be continuing the project in the future by expanding my project to other underserved neighborhoods in Colorado.

We’re so proud of the positive impact of your Puksta Project on the Sun Valley community, as well as your inspiring leadership, Blanche! Thank you for your beautiful words and reflections on your tremendous journey as a Puksta Scholar. We’re so grateful to be part of this family with you.

Read the full article in the “Public Good Impact” Newsletter:


Celebrating our Incoming Scholars and Graduating Seniors at Puksta Passages: MSU Edition!

Greeting our MSU Puksta family and catching up!
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Last week, friends, family, supporters, and Metropolitan State University Puksta Scholars gathered together via video chat to celebrate another *virtual* Puksta Passages event (and Pizza Party)!

The celebration began with the introduction of our newest MSU Puksta scholars, Emanuel Walker and Manna Naumann. We are thrilled to have these amazing individuals join the Puksta Family, and we look forward seeing how they engage with their campus and communities in the years ahead!

The final part of the MSU Passage was dedicated to our graduating MSU seniors, Jennifer Cassidy, Angelica Prisciliano, and Cicilia Saenz. In addition to their fellow Pukstas, Puksta Coordinators and MSU staff joined in as audience members to cheer them on.

Jennifer completed an individualized degree program in Women’s Studies. As a benefactor of the TANF Gateway program, Jennifer sought to ensure that others, specifically people who have experienced interpersonal violence, have the ability to better control their future. For her Puksta project, she explored ways to get computers and related gear to the very people and communities that often have the most difficulty in acquiring these much-needed tools.

Angelica majored in Political Science with a concentration in Public Affairs. She is actively involved in work that empowers and advocates for students regardless of immigration status. Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which currently allows around 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors to live and work in the United States. Angelica’s Puksta Project built a strong, student-led network of higher education resources for DACAmented/undocumented communities through United Leaders in Higher Education.

Cicilia majored in Special Education with a concentration in CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education). She spent her time as a Puksta working to improve special education outcomes for underrepresented communities. This included teaching students and parents how to use what was offered to them, and to help improve their academic outcome. Cicilia’s Puksta work also supported awareness of suicide prevention resources for youths and college males in particular.

MSU Puksta Coordinator Alyssa Marks and former Coordinator Tim Meeks reflected on the growth and accomplishments of Jennifer, Angelica, and Cicilia over the course of their years at Puksta, as well as their ongoing work as change-makers engaging in work to truly make the world a better place for all. Fellow scholars also shared favorite memories and moments of our graduating seniors.

Presenting senior Puksta Scholars with a graduation cord is traditional part of Puksta Passages. However, as the ceremony was moved to a remote format, we had to get creative. Executive Director John Mulstay and Director of Development and Community Outreach NiChel Mulstay arranged for Jennifer, Angelica, and Cicilia to receive their cords at home, and virtually presented the cords to the scholars, congratulating each of them on their accomplishments and thanking them for their meaningful work as Puksta Scholars.

We are truly blown away by the level of creativity, compassion, and forward-thinking demonstrated in each of our graduating and continuing scholars’ projects, as well as their continued commitment to having a positive impact on their communities. Our scholars at DU are mentors, social justice warriors, and advocates for a more equitable world, and we couldn’t be more proud of them!

Thank you to all of the scholars, as well as our supportive attendees, for making this ceremony a success, and for being part of an evening of love and laughter. We’re so proud of all of our scholars– incoming, current, and graduating– and are grateful to have opportunities like this to celebrate, even if it’s virtually for now! This year’s MSU Puksta Passage truly demonstrated that, in spite of the various challenges and uncertainties we’re all currently facing, Puksta is Love.

Best of luck to Jennifer, Angelica, and Cicilia in your journeys ahead, and thank you for being a part of our Puksta Family, now and always.


Remembering Harry Puksta ~ December 30th, 1922 – July 4th, 1999

While we celebrate the holiday weekend, please take a moment to celebrate the life of a true hero and gentleman to the end, Harry Puksta. He lost his sweetheart, Eva, July 3rd, 1999 and died of a broken heart the next day. He never her left side and died on the 4th of July, a day fit for a World War II veteran who served his country with honor. Harry was a salt of the earth man who enjoyed an honest day’s work, watching the rockies and making wine in the basement. Their final wish was to help the the “good kids of the community go to college.” This gift has changed over 300 lives and will continue for many more. The  Puksta Legacy will live on in the hearts and actions of the “good kids” they have supported.  Thank you Harry — We will all be forever grateful.

When Harry and Eva expressed their simple desire to leave something behind that would help deserving students in Colorado access higher education, they never could’ve predicted the outcome. Now, over twenty years later, the Puksta Foundation has grown to become a family of over 300 current Puksta Scholars and Alumni. In addition to providing the financial support needed to attend university, Harry and Eva’s wish has also brought individuals together and helped them to become compassionate members of their communities and leaders for positive change. “Puksta” has come to mean so many things to our scholars: it’s a community of support, a passion for making a difference, an opportunity to grow, and much more.

All this is possible because of Harry and Eva. 


Celebrating the life of Eva June Puksta ~ Dec 22, 1920 – July 3, 1999

21 years ago today we lost a beautiful farm girl from Albion, Nebraska.


She moved to Denver after the war to work at the Veteran’s Affair’s office in Denver. Where she met the love of her life, Harry Puksta.


She was a knitter of owls


She was the bookkeeper for the Puksta’s


She was a warm soul


Now she is the angel watching over all of her Puksta Family.


Thank you Eva, you will never be forgotten!

When Harry and Eva expressed their simple desire to leave something behind that would help deserving students in Colorado access higher education, they never could’ve predicted the outcome. Now, over twenty years later, the Puksta Foundation has grown to become a family of over 300 current Puksta Scholars and Alumni. In addition to providing the financial support needed to attend university, Harry and Eva’s wish has also brought individuals together and helped them to become compassionate members of their communities and leaders for positive change. “Puksta” has come to mean so many things to our scholars: it’s a community of support, a passion for making a difference, an opportunity to grow, and much more.

All this is possible because of Harry and Eva. 

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Senior Spotlight: Chhorda Vuth (DU ’20)

With summer underway, we have one final graduating Puksta to celebrate!

The Puksta Foundation is featuring “Senior Spotlight” profiles, a special series of posts to honor our graduating Puksta Scholars and their projects. We are truly impressed by the work these students have accomplished as Puksta Scholars, and we are so grateful to have this opportunity to share these profiles with the community so you can get to know our Pukstas a bit better.

Please join us in congratulating these students and wishing them luck in the future!

Today our featured Puksta Senior is Chhorda Vuth, graduating from University of Denver!

As a Puksta scholar, Chhorda’s work involved supporting high school students facing obstacles as immigrants adjusting to new environments. The desire to help these students came from her own experiences with the process of moving to a new country and starting all over with schools and culture. For her project, she hoped to implement a mentorship program for newly arrived immigrant students to help them learn English and ease into the American Culture faster. She shared the following reflections about her Puksta experience:

My name is Chhorda Vuth and I just graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with minors in Chemistry, Psychology, and Sociology. I grew up in Cambodia and moved to Denver at the age of 14. The first few years of my education in the U.S. were really challenging and I wished that I had a mentor to guide me through the process. My experience as an immigrant student motivated me to start researching and implementing a mentorship program for newly arrived immigrant students.

I started this project during my senior year of high school. I went to my previous high school to interview immigrant students and ESL teachers to gain more insight on how I could best support newly arrived immigrant students. I continued to work on this project until my second year at DU. Toward the end of my first year at DU, I started mentoring a newly arrived immigrant student on how to adapt to the culture, school system, and the language.

At the end of my second year at DU, I partnered with DSST public schools on a college access mentorship program. This program matched mentors (college students) with mentees (high school seniors) based on their interests. The high school students were mostly first-generation students who come from a low-income family. I served as a mentor to four students and they are now sophomore at universities. During my junior year, I served as a coordinator for another branch of DSST schools. I worked with the mentors, students, and the school counselors. My responsibilities included advising students on their college essays, applying for financial aid, choosing the right university etc. I also worked with the mentors and the school counselors by sending weekly emails to remind them about our weekly focus and tasks for the students. I received a lot of support from my mentor/teacher during my senior year of high school and I am glad that I could offer the same support to my mentees through this project.

Overall, Puksta has provided me with so many opportunities that I will be forever grateful for and I am so honored to be a part of a passionate and loving community.

Congratulations on the completion of your degree, Chhorda, and thank you for your truly meaningful and impactful work in the community!