Bweza Itaagi was a Puksta scholar during her last two years at the University of Denver (2012-2014). Her Puksta project focused on food access, urban agriculture, and food justice in the Denver area. She began the Puksta program after spending a quarter studying public health and development in Senegal, West Africa in the fall of 2012. In Senegal, she learned from health officials, professors, and farmers that food access is a pressing issue in global public health. Upon returning to Denver and planning out her Puksta project, she began to research more about how barriers to accessing healthy and affordable food impacted a large number of Denver residents as well. Through Puksta she was able to connect with Denver leaders who were committed to growing fresh food in the city for the residents who needed it most. As a result, she was hired by the GrowHaus for the summer of 2013 to co-lead a program for Denver high school students. In the program she taught classes focused on personal nutrition, urban agriculture, and community activism.
The Puksta program was foundational in her career path post college. It was a catalyst for sparking her passion in addressing health through food. While developing her Puksta project, she realized that she wanted to focus her work and life on addressing food access issues through urban agriculture. She moved to Chicago in 2015 to pursue a master’s degree in Sustainable Urban Development from DePaul University. After finishing her master’s, she met with several organizations focused on urban agriculture, community empowerment and food justice and ultimately was hired by a non-profit organization called Grow Greater Englewood (GGE). GGE works with Englewood residents and developers to create profitable community owned farms to promote community health and economic development. In her role as the Sustainable Program Steward/Program Manager, she co-leads a network of Black, Brown and Indigenous urban farmers on the south and southwest sides of Chicago. The network works as a collective to create and support initiatives that address inequities in Chicago’s food system.
Outside of her non-profit work, she owns a pop-up shop for houseplants and succulents called Ebimera Vines (follow them on Facebook and Instagram! – @ebimeravines). She grows plants and sells them at various events throughout the Chicago area. She also does plant installations, hosts workshops and leads demos on various topics related to growing indoor plants.
She is forever grateful to John, NiChel, and the Puksta Foundation for enabling her to pursue her passion for food justice work and urban agriculture. She appreciates their genuine kindness and commitment to all scholars even after graduation. Some advice she has for current scholars includes the following:
First, realize that your Puksta project can continue after you finish the program. View your project as a stepping-stone to something even greater. Second, you can always reach out to your Puksta family at any point in your professional life. John and NiChel are always available to give career advice or connect you with other Puksta alumni if you move to a new city. Third, feel free to contact me if you have any questions about my work or if you’re interested in learning more about urban farming!
The Puksta Scholars Program is always close to her heart and she is very thankful to have been a part of such a great program.
We’re so greatful to Bweza for taking the time to share her updates and reflections with us! If you’d like to be featured in a future Puksta Spotlight post, email Sarah Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to being a Puksta Scholar, Kelly Stone (MSU ’23) is also a personal trainer!
To help the Puksta Community stay physically active at home while gyms are closed, Kelly recorded a video for three cross fit bootcamp-inspired workouts, including demonstrations of the correct form for each movement and different options for various levels of athleticism. Thank you for sharing this fun way to keep ourselves moving, Kelly!
Once you’ve got the moves from the video down, turn up the volume on your favorite workout jams and try out these other exercise programs provided by Kelly:
Upper Body 50-100 reps each (choose how you want to split this up) Jump Squats Step Up Lunges Tripods Donkey Kicks Clam Shell Hip trust (1 legged) Copenhagen hip adduction Crunches Leg Raises
Lower Body Do each exercise 50-100 reps Pike Pushup Pushup Tricep dips Reverse Angels Power focused punches (your choice of combos) Pseudo Pushup Door Frame Rows Elbow Lifts Plank hold as long as possible (shoulder taps, plank walk downs and wide plank)
Full Body AMRAP (as many reps as possible) #1: 10 minutes 5 (1 rep is a push up and 4 mountain climbers) 10 Pike pushups 15 Jump Squats
As some of you may know, our Director of Development and Community Outreach, NiChel Mulstay, is a certified Practitioner/Instructor of Meditation, as well as a certified Reiki Master to help with energy healing.
Recently, NiChel launched the “Calming Bells” podcast to offer our scholars guided meditation and promote personal health. With the many upheavals to our personal and professional lives resulting from the COVID-19 situation and it’s implications, we’d like to share this podcast with our extended Puksta community, as well. We hope it will bring a sense of calmness, relief, and mindful connection.
Below is a note from NiChel that accompanies the latest episode: “Immune Strengthening Meditation.”
You will want to find a nice quiet space where you will not be disturbed for at least 30-35 minutes. Feel free to get comfortable, lay down or find a comfortable chair and let your mind be open. During this meditation, I will guide you through a few different exercises/scenarios to help expand your mind to help you communicate and guide your immune system.
“Your immune system is one of the most critical, and most fascinating, aspects of the mind-body connection. For a long time, the ability of immune cells to attack invading disease organisms was considered purely physical, even though the mechanism was not completely understood. Then, in the ‘80s it was discovered that the immune system is highly intelligent; it became known as “a floating brain” because of the ability of immune cells to participate in the chemical messages sent by the brain throughout the body. This means that your thoughts, moods, sensations, and expectations are transmitted to your immune cells. When you meditate, these messages change in important ways.”
I really hope this can help you, your friends and family to create a positive mindset, deeper relaxation, and nurture and encourage your immune system to work even better for you… So I hope you enjoy all the benefits that this session will bring you.
As a little extra, I added some Solfeggio music in the background (frequencies known to help bring our bodies, cells, and DNA back into resonance and health.)
Thank you for letting me be a part of your meditative journey.
Today’s featured Puksta Scholar is David Chiu, a member of the 2008 Puksta Scholar Cohort at CU Boulder. David’s Puksta project established a water quality monitoring program in Left Hand Canyon, Boulder County, to aid in environmental restoration of areas impacted by historic mining activity. His goals in the program were to meet similar like-minded people that shared a passion for helping others and improving our communities. Another goal of David identified was to learn tools and strategies for implementing sustainable and measurable civic service projects.
David is currently living in Bothell, Washington and works as an analytical scientist for Seattle Genetics, a pharmaceutical company focused on cancer therapies. Regarding his Puksta experience and how it connects to his current work, David shared his reflections on how the Puksta program gave him the confidence to lead a large project outside of the confines of the classroom. The scholars, staff, and advisors, he added, provided him with a positive and supportive network of individuals that helped him through challenging times. Through his Puksta experience, David says, “I was able to improve my mental fortitude, empathy, organizational skills, and had doors opened for me that continue to benefit me throughout my life.”
We also asked David to share any advice for current scholars or alumni. He offered these words of wisdom:
Identify your dream that you are passionate about. Develop a plan to achieve that dream. You will encounter setbacks, but have the self-confidence to believe in yourself and the determination to achieve those goals. We all change as people and our dreams change as well so stay true to yourself and focus on things that you are passionate about.
Life has a strange way of working out. Maybe you interview for a job and don’t get it, but then you see a new posting for the job of your dreams. Maybe you buy a shiny new car, but end up crashing it and hurting yourself. Live in the moment, don’t dwell on the past and don’t try to predict the future. If you carry yourself with humility, respect, and integrity, good things will happen.
Thank you for taking the time to share this update with us, as well as your reflections on your Puksta experience, David!
We love hearing from our scholars, past and present! If you have an update to share or a recent accomplishment to celebrate, let us know! Email Sarah Thomas at email@example.com with your news!
20 years ago today, John Mulstay, fulfilled a wish and a promise to Harry and Eva Puksta and founded the Puksta Foundation! How Harry and Eva had the amazing foresight to chose John for this incredible task, we may never know. But, 20 years later it is clear they knew what they were doing.
The Puksta Foundation has come to be an incredible part of so many lives across this world, from the current scholars now, the alumni who carry the spirit of Puksta within them wherever they go, the coordinators that were willing to breathe their magic into our programs across all of our campuses, to the volunteers and anyone who has met one of our amazing scholars/alumni and everyone that has been touched by one of their Puksta Projects.
This foundation has definitely found the “Good Kids of the Community and given them the opportunity to get a college education” and so much more.
Thank you John, for founding this amazing foundation on the wishes of Harry and Eva! You have created a place of love and support to foster learning, community, and growth!
And thank you to everyone who has been a part of Puksta over the last 20 years! You have all touched and left your mark on this foundation and it would not be what it is without all of you! Let’s celebrate each other and keep the ripple going!
In celebration of of International Women’s Day, the Denver Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) hosted a panel event on Wednesday March 4 exploring struggles, identity, and attending college from a woman of color’s point of view.
The following is a brief synopsis of the event from Metro State University Puksta Scholar and event panelist Betty Tewodros:
The panel was a discussion with GALS students on gender equality, work-life balance, personal improvement, and mainly the differences between white feminism and what feminism means for women of color. Feminism is the opposite of sexism: it is a right to be yourself, it is a right to choose and live your life the way you deserve, and it is about equality. We also talked about how men can be feminist too, and it doesn’t have to be gender-divided because people identify as different genders.
MSU Puksta Scholars Karen Nunez and Ari Gibson, as well as Puksta Director of Development and Community Outreach NiChel Mulstay, were also in attendance at the lunch succession to meet with some of the high school students who are interested in going college and looking to find more resources and advice.
Jessica Matthews, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, participated as a guest speaker at the event. She developed soccer balls that produce energy when played with to help the energy crisis in undeveloped countries. Learn more here: https://www.u-pwr.co/company
Check out the photos of the event below!
Thanks to Betty, Karen, and Ari for sharing this experience with us!
We are excited to share that Puksta Scholar Oliver Martinez-Reyes (DU ’21) will be presenting at The University of Denver Founder’s Gala tonight! This event is a celebration of the transformative role of philanthropy at the University of Denver and the collaborative work of the DU community that advances academic excellence, creates global impact and serves the public good. Oliver’s Puksta Project focuses on mentoring first-generation and low-income high school students that are undecided about educational or economic careers.
Be sure to tune in to our live stream of Oliver’s speech! The program begins at 7 PM tonight (Thursday 3/5) and we expect Oliver’s presentation to begin around 7:20 PM. Below are links to the Facebook and Instagram pages where the live stream will be available.
Best of luck to you, Oliver! We look forward to hearing your speech tonight!
CSU Puksta Scholars and their projects were recognized at last week’s mid-year showcase. Each of our eight scholars, including three seniors, gave informative and passionate presentations demonstrating the impact and value of their work. Great job everyone!