Senior Spotlight: Oscar Saenz (DU ’20)

Graduation season may have come to an end, but we’re still celebrating the Class of 2020! 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 Oscar Saenz, graduating from University of Denver!

Oscar studied Strategic Communications and Marketing. For his Puksta Project, Oscar returned to his former school, Munroe Elementary, to develop a parent engagement and education program. Engaging in the community that he grew up in, Oscar has worked to advocate the importance of pursuing higher education.

In recognition of his strong academic performance, leadership, community service, campus involvement, strong character, and pride in the University, Oscar’s was honored as an Outstanding Senior Student for his strong academic performance, leadership, community service, campus involvement, strong character, and pride in the University with DU’s Crimson & Gold Award. His growth into “a compassionate and conscientious leader focused on centering community voices,” as well as his consistent willingness to mentor and extend support to younger Scholars were both noted in the awards announcement.

At DU, Oscar’s campus involvement also included being a member of the Excelling Leaders Institute Class of 2016, President of Beta Gamma Nu, and participant in the Volunteers In Partnership program.

Reflecting on his Puksta experience, Oscar shared the following:

Puksta has taught me the importance of being involved with my community. Change happens with action, no other way around it!

Congratulations on the completion of your degree, Oscar, and thank you for your truly meaningful and impactful work advancing positive social change and empowerment in the community! 


DU Crimson & Gold Awards Honor Three Puksta Scholars

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Congrats to three of our graduating Univerity of Denver Puksta Scholars on being recognized as outstanding senior students with the Crimson & Gold award. This award honors individuals or organizations for their continued efforts during their time at DU rather than just over the past year. Recipients of the Crimson & Gold Award demonstrate strong academic performance, leadership, community service, campus involvement, strong character, and pride in the University.

This year, recipients of the Crimson & Gold Award for Outstanding Senior Students including Puksta Scholars James Artis III, Blanche Marie Ndoutou, and Oscar Saenz.

Again, congratulations to James, Blanche, and Oscar on this well-deserved recognition of your work!


A message from the Puksta Foundation on this week’s rulings by SCOTUS.

As an educational foundation that is intentionally diverse and inclusive, our goal is to foster an environment in which all scholars can have a safe space to learn, grow and empower one another with their work for social justice. We tirelessly work for the ideal that everyone in the Puksta community and beyond are treated equitably.

We are both grateful and enthusiastic to share with you our thoughts regarding the two historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week: Monday’s ruling that protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination and Thursday’s decision upholding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These rulings affirm two populations that the Puksta Foundation has been a long-standing advocate for.

We have many Puksta Scholars and Alumni that are Dreamers carrying the banner for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients nationwide. I would like to take this opportunity to share the words of one of our alumni, Marco Dorado (CU Boulder Puksta Alumni 2014), who has been an unwavering and a vocal advocate for Dreamers both in Colorado and throughout the United States. Marco is now a Fellow at the National Development Council and graduated last week from the University of Washington with a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Click on the link below to listen to Marco’s thoughts about the impact of the Supreme Court’s DACA decision on Colorado: 

https://www.cpr.org/2020/06/18/the-supreme-court-decision-on-daca-is-relief-for-colorado-dreamers-but-advocacy-continues/

As these rulings provide us with a glimmer of hope, the fight is not over, there is still much work to be done. As a Foundation, we are committed to being true to the values of diversity and inclusion that we stand for, creating a more just world for all of us. 

Ways to continue to advocate for DACA and LGBTQ rights: 

  • 1. Contacting their Congressional Representatives and US Senators to ask for a bi-partisan bill that creates a permanent solution for DACA recipients (and opening the program back up for new applicants) 


Senior Spotlight: Blanche Ndoutou (DU ’20)

Graduation season may be ending, but we’re still celebrating! 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 Blanche Marie Ndoutou, graduating from University of Denver!

Through her Puksta Project “Know Your Rights, Save Your Lives”, Blanche developed a program to educate and mentor students from the Sun Valley community about their rights in interactions with law enforcement. Blanche was particularly driven to launch this program due to the disproportionately negative effects the criminal justice system has on communities of color, particularly youths in low-income neighborhoods. She shared the following reflections about her Puksta experience:

Hello, my name is Blanche Ndoutou and I am an alumni at the University of Denver with a double major in Criminology and Spanish, and a minor in Leadership Studies. As a Puksta scholar, I learned about my ability to create positive change. Being a scholar motivated me to take actions in order to dismantle issues that I am passionate about changing; such as juvenile justice.

In the past few years as a University of Denver student, I noticed that fellow students went into my neighborhood of Sun Valley, the poorest neighborhood in Denver, to give out food and volunteer for the residents. However, no one had ever taught the children about the criminal justice system. I found this mind-blowing because most of the children in the neighborhood are people of color and according to criminologists, they most likely to be negatively affected by the criminal justice system.

Therefore, as a criminology major, I came to the realization that I should be the person to bring awareness about the justice system to these children. I wanted to prepare for any negative law enforcement interactions, especially because of the issue of police brutality. I created a program called “Know Your Rights, Save Your Lives”. It is a 2 to 3 hours event in which I bring together the youth in my neighborhood and I teach them about their rights. I also provide food and drinks with the help of my Puksta Stipend. The children who have attended this event have given me feedback that they hope I continue with this project. I plan to make my project longterm by hosting 2 to 3 events per year concerning the justice system in the U.S. with the Sun Valley youth while expanding the program to other underserved neighborhoods in Colorado.

Congratulations on the completion of your degree, Blanche, and thank you for your truly meaningful and impactful work advancing equality and empowerment in the community! 


Senior Spotlight: Jennifer Cassidy (MSU ’20)

Graduation season may be wrapping up, but we’re still celebrating! 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 Jennifer Cassidy, graduating from Metropolitan State University Denver!

As a benefactor of the TANF Gateway program, Jennifer sought to ensure that others have the ability to better control their future by soliciting and donating computers, and related gear, to the very people and communities that often have the most difficulty in getting these much-needed tools. We are so proud of Jennifer’s passion for this work, as well as her courage in taking on this project and navigating adversity, unpredictability, and other challenges. She shared the following reflections about her Puksta experience and journey as a student:

When I became a Puksta scholar, my goal was to get people who had experienced interpersonal violence (IPV) back out into the workforce with confidence. I found this feat to be overwhelming. So, I scaled down my project to supplying computers to IPV shelters. During the time that I was collecting old and broken computers, I was also educating people on the 4th congressional districts access to IPV resources. The 4th congressional district covers most of the eastern portion of the state (from I25 to the Kansas/Nebraska border). In that district there are 9 IPV shelters. Out of those nine, only four have access to job search coaching, and only three offer job training. In the northeast is Stirling and Greeley the home to two of three facilities, and Trinidad which is in the central southern part of the state. My goal was to offer those in the middle of the state, such as Hugo, an opportunity to help the clients of their facility. Knowing that these shelters so not receive the resources or the funding, that others in a more diverse population would receive, I thought this could be where I can make the most impact. To give a family the opportunity to work from home with a computer while tending to the needs of their dependents.
I did not meet that goal. I was able to collect several computers, and repair a few (or so I thought). I need to replace batteries and have the software activated, which there is no funding available. With the COVID-19 outbreak, that made things much more difficult. Completing school was a top priority for me, and unfortunately my project went on a back burner. I have over come many personal challenged during the past few years that have made this journey increasing more difficult. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of mental health and IPV.

When asked what Puksta means to her, Jen shared the following:

Navigating through college can be like walking in the dark, especially when you are trying to find your place in this world, but Puksta is a guiding light through difficult navigation. Knowing that you others accept you for who you are and having others believe in what you want to do to help better your community is what the Puksta family is all about, and it is an honor to be part of that family.

Congratulations on the completion of your degree, Jen, and thank you for your truly meaningful and impactful work in the community! We invite you to learn more about Jen and her project in the video below.


This is not a moment for silence. The Puksta Foundation unequivocally affirms that Black lives matter and stands in solidarity with protestors in Colorado and across the country in the fight for racial justice.

Over the last several weeks, the systemic violence against Black Americans has risen into the consciousness of our country in a way that it should have many years ago. We mourn the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, and countless other Black Americans who are tragic victims of anti-Blackness and White supremacy. Their deaths underscore the fact that racism is deadly, and addressing it must be core to any and all organizing for social justice. We acknowledge that throughout our country’s history, state-sponsored violence and white supremacy have inflected intergenerational trauma and harm on the Black community and have led to large inequities in health, wealth, education, and more.

At the Puksta Foundation, we believe that supporting young people of color is a way to create deep and lasting change in our society. Access to education, especially for young people who have historically had their access obstructed or denied, is a means of creating a more just and equitable society. We stand by our commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and anti-racism because we need the voices of people representing all parts of our community to truly understand how inequity affects us. We commit to amplifying those voices of those who in the past have not had a seat at the table.

In addition, the Puksta Foundation is committed to the ongoing anti-racist work required to bring about positive change. It is our responsibility to examine the ways in which we have perpetuated White supremacy and to intentionally dismantle it in ourselves and our work. We ask that you join us in taking action and hold us accountable.

Lastly, we will strive to ensure that the black students, families, mentors, and staff we serve and work with are always valued, affirmed, and loved as members of the Puksta family.

In solidarity,

The Puksta Foundation

Ways to Take Action


Senior Spotlight: James Artis III (DU ’20)

Graduation season may be wrapping up, but we’re still celebrating! 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 James Artis III, graduating from University of Denver!

James is a Business Management major with a Business Information Analytics minor. He is actively involved in work that empowers and promotes justice for low-income communities and communities of color. His efforts as a Puksta Scholar include seeking to address issues surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and Black communities. He passionately engages in social justice work to make sure voices of individuals belonging to marginalized identities are heard, recognized, and represented. Additionally, he has been a mentor for the Excelling Leaders Institute and has worked with the Cherry Creek School District towards their Brotherhood efforts.

At DU, James co-facilitated The Black Male Initiative Summit, in addition to helping to welcome prospective students to the DU Campus as a Program Visit Intern at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. James has also contributed to the community as an Assistant Basketball Coach for AAU Premiere Basketball Club, Youth Pastor at Balm of Gilead, Brotherhood Publicist at Overland High School, and Volunteer at Operation Christmas Child Warehouse and Food Bank of the Rockies.

To learn more about James’ Puksta Project, check out the poster below.

Congratulations on the completion of your degree, James, and thank you for your truly meaningful and impactful work advancing equality and empowerment in the community! 


Puksta Scholar Rosie Contino’s Write-up of DU’s Puksta Passage Night

Last month, our DU Puksta Community gathered for a virtual Puksta Passage to celebrate our graduating scholars, as well as our incoming scholars. DU Puksta Scholar Rosie Contino (’22) shared a wonderful summary of the event through the DU Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning’s “Public Good Impact” newsletter. Thank you for your beautiful words and sharing your reflections from the evening, Rosie!

Read the full write-up here:


Recent Puksta Highlights From CU Engage

We’re taking a moment to recognize the accomplishments of a few Puksta Scholars, Alums, and Coordinators by sharing some recent highlights from CU Engage, the Center for Community-Based Learning and Research at the University of Colorado Boulder! CU Engage is also where the Puksta Foundation is housed on CU Boulder’s campus.

In Fall 2019, CU Boulder Puksta Coordinator Roudy Hildreth became CU Engage’s Executive Director. Roudy has served as CU Boulder’s Puksta Coordinator since 2014. Roudy’s successor, Allie Van Buskirk, has been working with CU Scholars as co-coordinator through this transition since Fall 2019. Puksta Coordinators are invaluable members of our team that help potential Scholars learn about the application and enrollment process. Coordinators also share with scholars the guidelines for developing each individual’s project as part of the Puksta Scholarship. Most importantly, coordinators provide support, encouragement, mentorship, and guidance to Puksta Scholars throughout their journeys. Congrats to Roudy, and welcome Allie!


Puksta Alum Charla Agnoletti (DU ’09) was recently awarded the 2020 Anne K. Heinz Staff Award for Excellence in Outreach and Engagement. The award recognizes staff with outstanding professional commitments to and success with community outreach and engagement initiatives. Agnoletti also will receive $5,000 to support Public Achievement’s outreach as a program. Congratulations to Charla and the Public Achievement program!


Current Puksta Scholar Marwa Osman (CU Boulder ’21) was also recognized for her work recently. Marwa illustrates her development as a leader for social and environmental justice as she progresses through different programs on campus including CU Engage’s INVST and Puksta Scholars programs.

“There is the economic issue of there not being enough opportunities allowing students from different backgrounds to be here, the environmental aspect of it (CU’s Campus) not feeling safe, and the social aspect of not seeing people like you and being the only person of color in class. These can all relate to the sustainability and maintenance of diversity here at CU,” said Osman.


Alumni Scholar Spotlight: Bill Shrum (CU Boulder ’14)

Bill Shrum (CU Boulder, ’14) was a Puksta Scholar for the final 3 years of his undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Environmental Design with an emphasis on Urban Planning. Being an older returning undergrad and the first in his immediate family to go to college, there was a strong desire to help students from challenging backgrounds find the way through high school and go on to college. Teaming up with Juedon Kebede, (CU Boulder, ’15), Bill and Juedon started “Impact the Youth” as their collaborative Puksta project, a non-profit peer mentoring program bringing high school freshmen and sophomores to CU Boulder to pair up with current undergraduate and graduate students. The peer mentorship was complimented with academic and programmatic deep dives into disciplines on campus including aerospace, biology, architecture, performance, sociology, computer science, and more. The program saw more than 30 high school students participate, and all were admitted to college after graduating high school.

The Puksta Scholars program was the most impactful program for Bill as an undergraduate, above and beyond student government, academic clubs, Greek life, and social interest clubs. The collection of students in the Puksta program were all tremendous leaders on campus and in the community, and the ability to work with and learn from these students was invaluable. Puksta helped Bill expand his community work and outreach on several projects including student government, town-gown relations, peer mentoring, and student organizing.

These skills were directly relevant to Bill’s academic career path, earning a Masters of Communication (CU Boulder, ’18) and soon to graduate with a Masters of Public Administration from CU Denver in 2020. As the Assistant to the Town Manager in Eagle, CO, much of my daily work is community relations, staff and volunteer management and mentoring, and project management. Bill is also an Emerging Leader within the Colorado City and County Manager’s Association and assists CCCMA in communication, outreach, and programming. He has used these skills to lead outreach and project management to help start a Municipal Broadband network, Recreation Center master planning, Economic and Business Development, and other social and equity programs within the Town.

Reflecting on his Puksta experience, Bill shared the following:

My advice for current and future Puksta Scholars is two-fold. First, cherish and nurture the relationships and connections you can make with other Puksta Scholars, on your own campus, and across the state. Puksta has a knack for gathering and empowering civic-minded leaders, and your peers will be confidants, colleagues, and mentors during your academic and professional lives. You will be hard-pressed to find a better community, so invest and take advantage of the Puksta community while you are a part of it. Secondly, many Puksta Scholars do not understand that the skills they learn through Puksta, as well as the moral and ethical compass scholars have for civic life and justice, empowers you to be effective leaders immediately. I have seen more capacity for leadership and effective community service from undergraduate Puksta Scholars than students in an MPA program or even tenured professionals in local government. Do not wait to be “more qualified” or to get “more experience” to unleash what you are already capable of. Many of our civic and social issues are urgent needs, and they need an urgent response.

Bill appreciates the incredible people leading Puksta Scholars, on campus, and in the foundation. Their enduring work is helping to build one of the best scholastic and citizen communities in Colorado. He is honored to be a member of such a great community and hopes current and future scholars can gain as much as he has from the program.