Puksta Intercollegiate Winter Retreat 2017!!!

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Our Annual Winter Retreat was full of surprises and lessons this year!
During our Annual Winter Retreats we teach scholars lessons in telling their stories. We also work with our scholars to provide them with the tools they will need to make effective change in our communities.
Ironically, the Women’s March on Denver fell on the same weekend as our intercollegiate retreat and we thought… What better way to teach civic engagement than to jump right into the middle of it! So, we revised our agenda and let the scholars observe and/or participate in in the march. It was a first march for many and became a great learning tool to show how powerful community organizing can be!
Over the course of the weekend our scholars also went through many workshops to help them grow and build upon their strengths. The workshops included Public Narrative, Identity, Building Your Resume, and Self-Care General/Mindfulness.
The Mindfulness Workshop was led by one of our own Puksta Alumni, Cody Wiggs (DU ’11). Cody is now serving as the Executive Director of Empowering Education. Empowering Education Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers comprehensive Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) programming, professional development, and implementation support in K-8.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Maggiano’s and were touched by the words and advice that was given by our graduating Puksta Scholars from each of our 5 partnering universities.
It was a wonderful weekend with many hugs, laughs, tears and sometimes deep introspection. But the most beautiful part of all was to see the family bond that forms between the scholars.

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MSU Scholars Raised funds to attend the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Cristine de la Luna, Violet Gorrell, Abigail Jimenez and Celeste Pegues – MSU Puksta Scholars raised funds to attend National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Montreal, Quebec, Canada from November 10 -13, 2016.  Cristine de la Luna, Violet Gorrell, Abigail Jimenez and Celeste Pegues will be presenting on various topics.  Here are a few excepts about their presentations.
“My presentation for the NWSA conference focuses on the history and idea behind human trafficking, the tragedy on a national scale, the vicious cycle that’s nearly inescapable, and the reasons why it is a successful global crime of today. The industry developed during the creation of servants and slavery and has certainly not gone away even when we have claimed “equality, growth, and hope for humanity”. The victims of human trafficking cannot be categorized under one umbrella. Immigrants, runaways, men, women, and children – they all have a big target on their backs. What is worse, once they are trafficked, a good portion of individuals end up recruiting new victims. It is a cycle that will never end if all aspects of society choose to remain blinded. The ignorance of the public has cost precious lives, and it is time to rip the veil and expose the evils that are happening in the world.” – Violet Gorrell
“This paper aims to explore and interrogate the political import of the theory of intersectionality. As intimated by civil rights scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersections of racism and sexism must be recognized, and actively interrogated if women of color are to be empowered in their struggle against sexual abuse. My introduction will set the parameters for the exploration of intersectionality as having existed as a lived reality long before it became a term. In its entirety, this examination seeks to provide a reading of intersectionality as a profound invisibility, which exists in relation to the law.” – Cristine de la Luna

Puksta Scholar bridges Lafayette’s digital divide

CU-Boulder undergraduate student Balkarn (Kern) Shahi is taking his knowledge of digital and information systems back to his hometown in Lafayette, Colorado, to help close the “digital divide” and other educational opportunity gaps for low-income students.

According to the 2013 census, one in four Americans does not have internet access at home, and those with the lowest median income rates are most affected. The digital divide problem in Lafayette puts low-income students at a disadvantage, a reality that hit close to home for Kern, who grew up in Lafayette and attended local public schools.

“When I was a senior at Centaurus High School, and people started applying to universities and for scholarships and grants, two of my friends came to my house to use our internet because they didn’t have it,” said Kern. “I was like, ‘Yo, just come over!’ We stayed awake until 1 or 2 in the morning applying to schools, FAFSA and everything. Then I got to CU and realized everyone here has access to the internet. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a serious issue about lack of opportunity and equity.’”

Kern, a junior majoring in information systems and finance and a Puksta Scholar, is strategically focused on bridging the digital divide for elementary school students at Alicia Sanchez Elementary School in Lafayette, a small neighborhood school serving some of the poorest neighborhoods in Boulder County.

“We are focusing our program, ConnectME, on addressing the digital divide at the elementary school level, because it’s one concrete way to help close the achievement gap,” said Kern. “Many of these students have never used a mouse, they don’t know how to work a computer. Their school testing now is all online and this is affecting their scores.”

Eighty-three percent of students at Alicia Sanchez qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 60 percent of students are from the Latino community. Many of these students are at a disadvantage in school because they do not have access to the internet at home.

“Without access to a device or Internet at home, our students are not able to practice at home the skills being presented at school,” said Lora De La Cruz, principal at Alicia Sanchez Elementary. “The digital divide is part of an opportunity gap, a homework gap and a learning gap. In order to close our achievement gap, we need to close our digital divide.”

Many Sanchez students also have older siblings at Centaurus high school, where 110 students – 10 percent – don’t have internet access at home. By focusing on the individual households with kids attending Alicia Sanchez Elementary, Kern believes his program will help high school students, too.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, many educators are pushing for students to use resources on the internet to complete class work and turn in assignments. “The federal government is now grappling with a stark disparity in access to technology, between students who have high-speed Internet at home and an estimated five million families who are without it and who are struggling to keep up,” the article states.

Boulder Valley School District now offers each student a Chromebook to take home and to keep after graduation.

“In Boulder County, devices aren’t an issue, but having internet access is,” said Kern.

Kern’s participation in the Puksta Scholars Program at CU-Boulder has enabled him to devote his time and energy to the ConnectMe project. A program of CU Engage, the Puksta scholarship funds more than a dozen CU Boulder students each year to create and carry out multi-year community engagement projects that address complex public problems.

ConnectME is collaborating with the Boulder Valley School District IT Department, school officials from Alicia Sanchez Elementary, Lafayette City Council Members and internet service providers Comcast and CenturyLink. The Connect ME program – which stands for “Connect My Education” – also receives support from the Sister Carmen Community Center in Lafayette.

“Although we are focused on reaching elementary students at Sanchez, the digital divide is not just an issue for students, it’s also for families,” said Kern. “For example, even applying for health care is now online. But students are the ones getting seriously hurt because their classmates have access and they don’t, which is a big problem contributing to the opportunity gap.”

Kern says he always knew he wanted to go to CU-Boulder, as both of his older sisters are alums.

“But the main reason I’m doing this project is because it hit me close,” he said. “Growing up in Lafayette, lots of my friends had this issue. I look back and think, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have internet.’”

By Jennifer Ciplet, CU Engage Manager of Communications

DJ Close and United Way’s Reading Corps

DJ Close is one of our Alumni and Advisory Board members. He works with United Way as a Program Manager for their Reading Corps program. They were in the Denver Post for their extreme success that the program is having with children and literacy. Congrats DJ and keep up the great work!



A true inspirational for all undocumented students

Marco Dorado, a Puksta Scholar at CU,  made it into the Colorado Daily. He is an advocate for undocumented students, and is a true inspiration.

“I think the mark I want to leave at CU is for it to be a place of inclusion,” he said. “Before I came to CU, I was just kind of living in the shadows. When I got here — people looked beyond my status. It’s not just about being a place of inclusion for people who are undocumented, but for those who come from all kinds of different backgrounds. I want this to be a place about valuing people for who they are as opposed to judging them for things that are out of their control.”



Bryant Mason turns Puksta project into career

Bryant Mason, founder of Urban Farms, is one of our Puksta alumni from CU. His project was to help people create sustainable food through personal gardens. He now has evolved that vision into a career. Urban Farms has recently gained a contract with developers in Stapleton to offer homebuyers raised-bed gardens for their front yards or backyards.