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.  


Congratulations to Puksta Scholar Lamya’a Dawud (CU Boulder ’13)!

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We’re celebrating Lamya’a Dawud (or should we say Dr. Dawud!) and the completion of her PhD in Integrative Systems Biology from CU Denver! Lamya’a is an Alumni Puksta Scholar from CU Boulder, where she earned her BA and MS in Integrative Physiology in 2015.

Congratulations, Dr. Dawud, and best of luck to you in your future work!


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

Everybody say "Puksta!"
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Last week, friends, family, supporters, and Denver University Puksta Scholars gathered together via video chat to celebrate another *virtual* Puksta Passages event (and Pizza Party)!

The evening began with the introduction of our newest DU Puksta scholars: Sunjoi Gandhi, Dhiona Jaramillo, Christy Vo, and Marissa Martinez Suarez. 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 evening was dedicated to our graduating DU seniors, Blanche Marie NdoutouChhorda Vuth, James Artis III, and Oscar Saenz. In addition to their fellow Pukstas, friends and families joined in as audience members to cheer them on, as well as staff from DU.

Blanche studied Criminology, as well as Spanish and Leadership Studies. As a Puksta scholar, she collaborated with African Students United, a campus organization she co-created, in order to reach out to African Community Center and work with them. As someone who came to the United States as a refugee, Blanche also dedicated herself to working on ways of easing the transitional obstacles and stress often experienced by Denver’s refugee population.

Chhorda is a Biology major. As a Puksta scholar, her 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.

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 include seeking to address issues surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and Black communities. Additionally, he has been a mentor for the Excelling Leaders Institute and has worked with the Cherry Creek School District towards their Brotherhood efforts.

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.

DU Puksta Coordinator Kathleen Ferrick reflected on the growth of Blanche, Chhorda, James, and Oscar 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. A retrospective slideshow of pictures was also shared, with heartfelt notes from fellow DU Puksta Scholars interspersed throughout.

Presenting senior 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 Blanche, Chhorda, James, and Oscar to receive their cords at home, and then 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 DU 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 Blanche, Chhorda, James, and Oscar in your journeys ahead, and thank you for being a part of our Puksta Family, now and always.


Senior Spotlight: Sabrina Pribyl (CSU ’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 Sabrina Pribyl, graduating from Colorado State University!

Through her Puksta Project “Puppy Pals”, Sabrina collaborated with Puksta Alum David Purcella (CSU ’18) to introduce service dogs to help teach and mentor young disabled students through the “Puppy Pals” program. These service animals assist with practicing reading, writing, and speaking skills outside of the classroom, helping students feel more confident entering their classroom. She shared the following reflections about her Puksta experience:

As I grew up, I quickly learned that not all schools are created equal which inspired me to find ways to make schools more inclusive places and provide additional resources for students with disabilities. When I started my education at CSU, I met Puksta scholar David Purcella who was also trying to provide additional resources with disabilities. He created a program called Puppy Pals with tutors grade school students alongside service animals to mitigate the stress which can often come with tutoring sessions. We quickly bonded over our shared interest and a year later I was welcomed into the Puksta family to carry out David’s Puppy Pals program. Through this program we hoped to help students be more confident in their own classrooms as well as inspire them to pursue higher education. Like many students, the first time I stepped foot on a college campus was when I was touring colleges my senior year of high school. Tutoring our students on the CSU campus allowed that introduction at a much earlier stage. I have the very unique opportunity to work directly with another Puksta scholar on a project which I believe helped our project prosper and keep David’s legacy alive. My last two years of college, I volunteered as a literacy tutor at Dunn Elementary school. I think being able to work with students and their teachers within their classrooms helped me understand the students’ challenges on a deeper level. By the time of my graduation, I was so inspired I almost changed my career path from statistics to special education.

This project and my work with these kids definitely left a huge impact on me and I hope I can continue to provide additional resources for students in the future. I am so grateful for my time within the Puksta Foundation because they not only gave me the ultimate opportunity to make a difference in my community but they inspired and supported me the whole way through. My only advice for incoming scholars is to just make the best of your time within Puksta because it goes by way too fast! 

We invite you to learn more about Sabrina and her project in the video below. Sabrina prepared this presentation as part of CSU’s Puksta Showcase in February 2020.

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


Senior Spotlight: Dominica Manlove (CSU ’20)

With graduations for university students across Colorado underway, the Puksta Foundation is featuring “Senior Spotlight” profiles, a special series of posts to celebrate 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 Dominica Manlove, graduating from Colorado State University!

Dominica majored in Health & Exercise Science. She spent her time as a Puksta working to promote self-love, natural beauty, and respect among young women and girls. Reflecting on her Puksta experiences, Dominica shared the following about her project, ‘Be Yourself and Own It!’: A movement designed to defeat the perception of beauty and spotlight the uniqueness in being different and yourself! 

Society’s ideologies influence women of color and of mixed races to believe that they are not beautiful in their own skin if they do not fit a certain criteria, persuading women to change themselves in order to be “beautiful”. As a result, young, curly-haired women grow up without self-love for their unique hair, and often damage it in attempts to straighten it. The focus for ‘Be Yourself and Own It’ was to establish a curly hair movement. During this educational movement we were able to unravel beauty and self-love with young girls throughout the school year. I have had the opportunity to connect with cultural groups, women’s support groups and entrepreneurs for skin and hair care to bring together and showcase to young girls with hopes of encouraging self-love and self-happiness. We highlighted self-care tips from hair care to skin along with nutrition advice. We presented and displayed different hair and skin type journeys with hopes of bringing awareness and spreading self love to young ladies. With curly haired demonstrations, activists and stylists, we delved into culture and understanding through workshops. The ‘Be Yourself and Own It’ movement strived to influence love and passion for diversity throughout the community, and create a safe place where individuals were accepted for who they are. It was important to encourage uniqueness and uplift one another instead of making beauty a competition. I loved helping young women learn about themselves and their unique beautiful differences.

I would like to thank Puksta for making my vision possible, for believing in me and supporting me throughout my college journey.

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


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

Graduating Puksta Scholar Dominica Manlove
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Last Friday, friends, family, supporters, and Colorado State University Puksta Scholars gathered together via video chat to celebrate another *virtual* Puksta Passages event (and Pizza Party)!

The evening began with the introduction of our newest CSU Puksta scholars: Melanin Armendariz, Mariela Paul, Gerson Flores Rojas, Abighail Tekeste, and Bemnet Tefera. 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 evening was dedicated to our graduating CSU seniors, Deborah Ilangikwa, Dominica Manlove, and Sabrina Pribyl. In addition to their fellow Pukstas, friends and families joined in as audience members to cheer them on, as well as staff from CSU including: Collaborative for Student Achievement Executive Director Gaye Digregorio, Community for Excellence Scholar Programs Director Taé Nosaka, Community for Excellence Scholar Programs Associate Director Miel McCarthy, Key Explore Community Coordinator Brian Hayes, and Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Access Tom Biedscheid.

Debbie is an International Studies majorAs a Puksta scholar, her work involved supporting ESL students from Fort Morgan High School through the Define Your Success program. Debbie will continue her passion for working with students as a student in the Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at Boston University this fall.

Dominica is an Health & Exercise Science major. She is actively involved in work that promotes self-love and natural beauty. For her Puksta Project, Dominica established Be Yourself and Own It!: A movement designed to defeat the perception of beauty and spotlight the uniqueness in being different and yourself. This movement was particularly based around young women with curly hair, offering demonstrations, activists, and stylists that delved into culture and understanding through workshops.

Sabrina is a Statistics major. Her passion focuses on supporting and advocating for children with disabilities. Through her Puksta Project “Puppy Pals”, Sabrina collaborated with Puksta Alum David Purcella (CSU ’18) to introduce service dogs to help teach and mentor young disabled students through the “Puppy Pals” program. These service animals assist with practicing reading, writing, and speaking skills outside of the classroom, helping students feel more confident entering their classroom.

CSU Puksta Coordinator Sam Desta reflected on the growth of Debbie, Dominica, and Sabrina 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. A retrospective slideshow of pictures was also shared, with heartfelt notes from fellow CSU Puksta Scholars interspersed throughout.

Presenting senior 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 Debbie, Dominica, and Sabrina to receive their cords at home, and then 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 CSU 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 CSU 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 Debbie, Dominica, and Sabrina in your journeys ahead, and thank you for being a part of our Puksta Family, now and always.


Senior Spotlight: Cicilia Saenez (MSU ’20)

With graduations for university students across Colorado underway, the Puksta Foundation is featuring “Senior Spotlight” profiles, a special series of posts to celebrate 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 Cicilia Saenez, graduating from Metropolitan State University!

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 and supporting awareness of suicide prevention resources for youths. Reflecting on her Puksta experiences, Cicilia shared the following:

I grew up in Commerce City and graduated from Adams City High School. As a first-generation high school graduate, stepping into college was going to be scary territory. My journey to Puksta started my junior year, it was a little bit of a mess, I didn’t have much confidence when applying as I had just been rejected from one scholarship. Being accepted into Puksta was and has been one of my greatest success through out my college experience. It has allowed me to grow in ways I did not know I needed. It created a space for me to network and build on skills that I will be able to carry into my profession. It also gave me a platform to talk about the things that are important to me. But most importantly Puksta gave me Puksta love, a place where we can express individuality, a place where we can support each other and build, a place where we can laugh and not be afraid. That is something I will always take with me.  

My first year as a Puksta Scholar my project consisted of creating a space for underrepresented communities to receive information on the benefit of special education services. This included teaching students and parents how to use what was offered to them, and to help improve their academic outcome. The passion for creating this space came from my major and seeing how much parent and student don’t know about what is out there for them. But as my time in Puksta went on, my project changed. In this project my hope was to bring awareness to suicide prevention resources. My goal was to reach the youth and college males, as I feel they are two of the populations that are most at risk in our communities. This was done through posting on social media and becoming more informed myself.

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


Senior Spotlight: Deborah Ilangikwa (CSU ’20)

With graduations for university students across Colorado underway, the Puksta Foundation is featuring “Senior Spotlight” profiles, a special series of posts to celebrate 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 Deborah Ilangikwa, graduating from Colorado State University!

Debbie spent her time as a Puksta working to support ESL students from Fort Morgan High School. She shared the following reflections about her Puksta experience:

My name is Deborah Ilangikwa and my project is called Define Your Success. We work with students who are in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Fort Morgan High School to encourage post-secondary education.


About me: I recently graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Legal Studies. Puksta has supported me a lot these past few years and I will forever be grateful that I was a Puksta Scholar. 


As I move forward: Being a Puksta Scholar and working with students in my project has helped me find my passion for continuing my work with students. I will be attending Boston University in the fall to get my Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. 


Advice to Puksta Scholars: Don’t forget to be a Student FIRST!

We invite you to learn more about Debbie and her project in the video and poster below. Debbie prepared this presentation as part of CSU’s Puksta Showcase in February 2020.

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