A look back at Puksta Alumni Kevin McQuirk’s project with STEM Mentoring

My project for the Puksta foundation is a yearlong mentorship between paired, college and high school students in the Denver Public Schools. The name for my mentoring program is “Impact the Youth.” Through Impact the Youth, I will immerse high school mentees into the higher education environment on the Auraria Campus. The high school students who Impact the Youth is designed for are minorities, undocumented people, and socio-economic disadvantaged students that are in their second, third, or last year of high school. The goal of the project is to present these students with multiple options of education through a university or community college. It is designed to show higher education as one of the best career options, encourage them to attend college, and remove any roadblock in the way of these goals. In Impact the Youth, I will build mentor-mentee relationships with high school students by inviting them to attend activities at MSU Denver throughout the year. These activities could be a presentation, laboratory research, lecture, or event on the Auraria campus. This will allow high school students to be familiar with college campuses and to experience many opportunities through organizations at MSU Denver. This will also provide high school students the potential to work with on-campus organizations that they may potentially become involved with if they attend MSU Denver in the near future.

Puksta Coordinator Spotlight: Roudy Hildreth

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Roudy Hildreth is an eternal student who has the Rocky Mountains in his soul and strong coffee in his veins. Growing up just west of Golden, he graduated high school as a Golden High “Demon” and then journeyed to the University of Virginia where he earned his first of many degrees as a UVA “Wahoo”. His academic pursuits took him many places, but it was his time at the University of Minnesota as a TA where he would initially meet a young woman who would eventually play a central role in both his life and in his heart. Running into her twice more, in the years that followed, the two finally started dating and eventually married. Over the years, his intense passion for academics has lead him to several other universities and scholarly positions, ultimately resulting in his current appointment at CU Boulder. In that time he has enlightened many and strengthened the institutions where he attained additional degrees, published papers, co-authored/edited books, wrote book chapters, and attained several accolades.

An activist since his childhood, Roudy’s first social justice experience occurred when he accompanied his parents in a protest against the Vietnam War. Since then, he has been an active social justice advocate who has undertaken numerous initiatives and programs, hoping to one day implement the Puksta values and practices to an entire university. Off-campus, he can be found in and around the many parks and libraries in Boulder, at concerts, home enjoying his favorite program: The Wire, or at the cinema enjoying the solemn works of Director Mike Leigh. Having come from a large family, Roudy finds comfort amongst his many Puksta scholars, citing the Puksta Passage and one-on-one meetings as some of his favorite experiences.

A dog lover with a penchant for colorful socks, Roudy brings an artful spirit of enthusiasm to his work and a hunger for learning that is mirrored in those he educates and supports. He believes that students can “do great things and change the world” and sympathizes with their daily struggles of commuting, studying, and working within the bureaucracy of universities. A firm believer in the power of education, Roudy envisions continuing his career and working to provide an environment that will embolden aspiring social justice advocates by nurturing them to develop their insights and abilities and allow them sufficient space, support, and time to dedicate their energies towards their work. Roudy is a shining gem atop the Puksta crown. His dedication, mindfulness, and expansive intellect have greatly strengthened The Puksta Foundation’s efforts and given hope and encouragement to many. A hearty cheer of celebration and thanks for all that you are and do Roudy!

Puksta Alumni Spotlight: Jenni Talcott

Jenni Talcott was an Englewood High graduate who attended DU with optimism and a talent for public debate. During her time, she approached her university life with vigor and enthusiasm, both as an avid Puksta scholar and as President of RAGE (rape awareness and gender education.). Seeking dual degrees in Criminology and Psychology, Jenni discovered an inner-calling to assist those in need and feels that Puksta offered her “a new lens to see the world”. Not only supporting her education, she thinks The Puksta Foundation gave her a “call to action” that matched her desires to make a better world. While spending her campus downtime at the student pub/restaurant: Driscoll Bridge, Jenni studied, created many cherished moments with her fellow students, and diligently completed her Puksta project which resulted in the Colorado Governor declaring the month of February as Dating Violence Awareness Month.

She met her husband while attending DU and relocated with him to Texas when he returned from military deployment in 2011. She immediately dove into social justice work there and has since grown and prospered, both personally and professionally, for nearly ten years. In addition to her current role as Development Coordinator for MOPS International, Jenni is a devoted wife and proud mother of two children (ages six and five) and three cats. Though she doesn’t miss the late nights of studying and dreading finals, Jenni remembers her time as a student with fondness. She lives in Denver with her family and is planning to complete the final year of her dual degrees. She intends to achieve a graduate degree afterward.

Looking back, Jenni is thankful for the experience and sees the foundation as something with immense potential and power stating that Puksta scholars are “world changers, not only because they are smart, but they are passionate. They have [the] drive to pursue change and because of Puksta they have the skills to affect that change.” She’s happy that her personal interests aligned with her career and wishes to stress to current Puksta’s to try and be mindful of the bigger picture while pursuing their studies, as she has noticed some former students struggle to match their passions to their professions. Jenni has become a beacon of light and hope within a world that truly needs the goodwill and fortitude she has to offer. She continues to carry the Puksta torch with pride and spreads the light of social justice with each passing day.

You are truly the embodiment of what Puksta was intended to accomplish and the foundation salutes you for everything you’ve done and for all the accomplishments you will certainly achieve in the future. A happy Puksta holiday salute to you Jenni!

Puksta Self-Care: It’s Right to Rest!

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You did it! All that hard work and endless studying are finally over and the time to rest has finally arrived. The many weeks of down-time that lay ahead might seem odd or even disquieting at first, but you’ll need this precious time to rejuvenate and reinvigorate so that you’ll be ready for the challenges of the next semester.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your rest:

Celebrate: Remember that reward in an earlier post? Now is the time to get that spa treatment, massage, or whatever else you were saving for yourself as a prize for all your hard work. Just keep it safe and pat yourself on the back. Many don’t make it through the first year of university, even more don’t achieve Puksta excellence, so congratulate yourself on your accomplishment and make a little merriment to commemorate that. Just keep it safe, so if you overindulge make sure to have a travel plan and maybe a friend along to ensure you have many more celebrations to come!

Sleep: Says it all, doesn’t it? Maybe not, as a quick nap here and there isn’t exactly the full, restful, and relaxed sleep that your body really needs at this time. You might find it difficult to slow down so suddenly, but remember that you’ve probably been burning the candle at both ends for some time and the idea of getting a full eight hours might seem alien to you. Take a few days for yourself and just rest. Your body will quickly remember and thank you for it!

Eat: Get some good fuel back into your body. Finals usually invite lots of unhealthy snacking and eating. Late-night take-out will stave off starvation, but it won’t refuel your body in the way you need. If you like to cook then go grocery shopping and make yourself a big meal (maybe invite a few friends?). If not, then maybe a local eatery will serve you up something that both comforts and replenishes. Either way, try to stay away from just filling “the void” with junk and make your meals an experience to savor.

Have Fun and Reconnect: Remember all that getting back in touch you might’ve promised once the semester was done? Now is the time to think about following through on that. Give yourself some rest time, but don’t forget that getting in touch with friends and family can also be restorative. Laughing, crying, or just reminiscing, these moments can sometimes be essential in comforting you when the finals crunch is on you again, so endeavor to grab a few while you can.

Above all, enjoy the time and make the most of it because the next semester will be back sooner than you think.

For more ways to enjoy your break visit:
https://www.fastweb.com/student-life/articles/the-10-things-you-should-do-over-holiday-break or

Puksta Coordinator Spotlight: Sam Desta

Sam is a lover of adventure who enjoys cold sushi, spicy chai, and Colorado summers. A graduate of Overland High School in Aurora, Sam ventured to Fort Collins where she attended CSU and attained a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Education degree consecutively. She has grown within the CSU community from working as a student to empowering them through a succession of positions within the university. Currently stationed as the CSU Community for Excellence Senior Coordinator, Sam has also been serving The Puksta Foundation as Coordinator since June. So far, her favorite Puksta moments have been when engaging with her fellow Coordinators and getting to know the CSU fellowship scholars at campus meetings.

Drawing from the experiences her family endured when they immigrated to the U.S., Sam became passionate about social justice and has sought to assist immigrant families and students in her adult life. She loves the CSU campus and can be often found sitting near a window facing the sun, walking on the Oval, or visiting the lagoon. A fan of Thai or Sushi take out, Sam is an admitted media buff who enjoys too many tv shows to list and loves to snack on the occasional madeline. She enjoys passing the time with board games and taking care of her plants. She dreams of her next relaxing vacation in her homeland of Ethiopia and doesn’t regret leaving the anxiety-inducing lifestyle of endless homework from her student days.

Though the future looks bright for her, Sam is still formulating her next step and envisions a future continuing her work and helping fellow immigrants through educational and career transitions. Sam is a professional, who is mindful, spirited, and optimistic while keeping a protective watch over her students, especially her Puksta scholars. Puksta is looking forward to many years of your lending compassion, grit, and enthusiasm to the effort and celebrates your inclusion within their family. Cheers to you Sam!

Puksta Self-Care: Time to Shine!

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Preparation is over. The time for Pukstas warriors has come! Much like the final push to the summit of a mountain, it’s time to brace ourselves for the final effort by gathering our tools, readying our minds and bodies for the tasks ahead, mapping out a successful approach, and just putting one foot (metaphorically) in front of the other till the peak has been achieved!

Here’s some tips on doing your best:

-Use energy drinks sparingly and wisely: Sure, it might seem that draining an energy drink before the big test will have you sharp and at top shape, but what if you overdo it? Energy drinks, especially for those who don’t take them often, can have unexpected (and sometimes dangerous) effects. Really think about this before you take one and definitely don’t take anything that is usually prescribed if it hasn’t been prescribed for you specifically. Also, be aware that some energy drink ingredients can make people jumpy and anxious when they start taking effect, so give yourself some time before pens are filling out answers. If you must take something then think about some coffee before contemplating anything stronger.

-Sleep before a test: It might sound counter-intuitive, but many experts state that a weary mind that has been studying is less accurate than a rested one that maybe didn’t do as much preparation. Though a combination of the two is optimal (and recommended) try to get at least three hours of sleep before heading to class. If sleep is impossible, then keep your eyes shut and just rest comfortably. The effect will have benefits, though not as much as full slumber.

-Re-read everything and make confirm your assignments are submitted: Resist dramatically submitting that crucial paper and turning off your laptop because (insert dramatic music) you just can’t muster another ounce of energy to write. Take some time to make sure your thoughts and research translated as intended. Reading things out loud is also a great way of finding errors and realizing that you could add a word or two. Also, after hitting “send”, do so before the deadline and make sure the actual file made it to the prof. Most campus systems allow students to download their submissions, so an easy confirmation is to save and close the file and then download and read the submission. It’s easy to send unrevised copies or even the entirely wrong file, especially when you’re tired and stressed.

-Set multiple alarms: There are horror stories about the student who accidentally slept through finals by mistake. This does happen and can have catastrophic consequences to your academic career, so guard against this by setting multiple alarms that are closely spaced. Don’t hit “snooze” and assume the next alarm will wake you. If you have a virtual assistant then also set a news brief that will get your mind running so you can get your blood pumping.

-Know when the stress has become too much: It happens to all of us at some point. The combination of stress and a lack of sleep can make us think about things in a way that isn’t either logical or healthy, so if you feel that things are feeling out of control, then get something to eat and some sleep even if it doesn’t seem like there’s time for it. If that’s not enough and things still are feeling dark then talk to someone asap! A friend is great, but a drop-in with the campus mental health staff can be what gets you back into the right mindset. Nobody can tackle everything and solve every problem without a little help from time to time, so there’s never any shame in talking to someone.

Some additional thoughts on finals prep:
https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2014/12/08/25-crucial-study-tips-for-finals-week/37398951/ or

Puksta Self-Care: Forging Ahead into Finals!

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The time has come when all the preparation and studying for the semester is nearing an end and final tests and papers are around the corner. Now is the time to ready your minds and bodies for the final push to finish classes. Pukstas thrive on challenge and stress, but the months of hard work can have a draining effect and can weaken us when we need all of ourselves at peak performance. Thanksgiving break can lull us into a false sense of complacency and make us vulnerable to poor performances. The final steps to the goal are near, so get yourself ready for the final push and ensure your arrival to the peak that is academic excellence!

Tips for prepping for finals:

-Get plenty of sleep: Those hours of test prep time and writing papers will seriously impact your shut-eye time very soon. Give your body, mind, and especially your immune system a much-needed boost by stocking up on plenty of slumber. Create a “sleeping zone” where you can turn off the outside world and just relax and rest. Sometimes this can be achieved through sleeping masks and earplugs. Sometimes with dark curtains and white noise. Whatever works

-Buy food and drink ahead: A stressed mind is often a focused one. Take-out and delivery can be convenient and fast, but a student budget doesn’t always allow for much of this and grocery stores can seem impossibly far away when deadlines are near. In addition to the junk food (try not to overdo this), make sure to buy a few extra meals that you know will pick up your spirits, be easy to make, and will give you the extra fuel to help you finish. Having something good to drink is also smart. Try to keep the sugary stuff to a minimum and put some of your favorite beverage in the fridge for those late nights and early mornings. Coffee and tea can be the lifeblood of students, so make sure you’re supplied well.

-Hydrate: Get your water. Dehydration can make you sloppy and unhealthy. A filtered water pitcher and a reusable water bottle (maybe one of those shiny new Puksta ones?) are perfect for keeping you in plenty of H2O and keeping you on the go.

-Actually study: There’s no other way to say it. You can’t learn by accident and rarely is anyone an instant genius, so you’ll need to crack open books, scan pages of online text, and review notes in order to get those marks that will ensure that a degree is in your future. Set a study schedule and try to stick to it. Create a space where you can focus and You can create a study habit that will serve you for finals and for the rest of your college years.

For a little more on this visit:
https://www.math.tamu.edu/~kahlig/help/cramming.html or stlawu.edu/academic-support/how-should-i-prepare-tests-and-final-exams

Puksta Coordinator Spotlight: Alyssa Marks

Alyssa is a woman driven by a love for social justice, the outdoors, good beer, and chocolate chip cookies. Raised in Dearborn Michigan, she is the most recent addition to the Puksta Coordinator posse and serves MSU as the Civic Engagement & Public Service Careers Industry Manager. A “Pioneer” and graduate of Dearborn High School, she completed her master’s degree in Social Work as a “Wolverine” at The University of Michigan. Continuing her family’s legacy of education and public service, she volunteered for Americorps prior to her graduate program and after graduation joined the Peace Corps where she journeyed to Mali to lead an adult literacy teacher training program.  

Making friends and opening minds in Mali, she eventually journeyed to the land of majestic Rocky Mountain peaks and cinnamon sunsets, where she would meet her husband through a mutual Peace Corps friend. Passionate about good skiing and better baking, Alyssa is a Colorado outdoor enthusiast and a self-admitted fan of The Great British Baking Show. Around town, she can often be found enjoying a brisk stroll in Wash Park, enjoying a good IPA or Sour at Cerebral Brewery, and feasting on “all things tuna” at Taki Sushi. She especially values the lazy late Colorado summers and is on the constant lookout for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie (Potbelly is the current leader).

Remembering the days of having to fight for a seat for a 45-minute bus ride from her college digs to her classes, Alyssa now fights for her MSU students where she champions them in numerous ways, including her duties as a Puksta Coordinator. A fan of the Auraria campus, Alyssa was drawn to her current MSU appointment by the non-traditional and diverse student body and envisions many years of prosperity and growth in the role. Still formulating her long term plans, she is considering furthering her education with either a PhD or EdD, in the coming years. Of her fondest Puksta memories, to date, she mentions the thrill she experienced when connecting on new project ideas and planning with the new scholars at the recent MSU Puksta meeting in October.

Alyssa is looking forward to the winter break where she intends to reconnect with her family back in Dearborn and is planning to wake them on Christmas morning with sizzling cinnamon rolls. Dreaming of one day vacationing in Ireland and Scotland, Alyssa looks forward to many years of avid Colorado living and keeping the Puksta torch held high. Puksta is strengthened by your passion for the scholars and celebrates your determination to ensure their success. Cheers to you Alyssa!

Puksta Self-Care: Unleash the Feast!

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That special time is finally here! Classes are on pause, the travel has been undertaken (or not), your mind is resting, and the family is gathered. Time to throw that diet out the window for a day and dig in. For just a few precious days, Pukstas can rest, relax, and revel amongst those who’ve truly made their academic journeys worthwhile. Not only is the Thanksgiving holiday a time for bringing out the good dishes and waiting impatiently for the big meal to start, but it’s also a time for bonding with family and friends and soaking up those moments that will become rare and infrequent in the years to come. Put your judgments and assumptions on hold for a day, hug someone and celebrate!

Tips for the Feast:

-Meat(less) isn’t a crime: If you prefer to eat meat(less) this holiday, then do so, but it’s good practice to respect the choices of others (especially if they respect yours) and make sure not to lay on a slice of guilt with each slice of tofu/turkey others eat. Maybe they’ll be encouraged to try it out themselves if you lead by example?

-Help with the dishes and/or trash: Sure college is tough, but not so much that everyone else has to do the cleaning after. Especially if you want to be seen as the adult you now are, spend a few minutes helping out before you let the food coma consume you. Maybe you can enlist siblings or other family members to also lend a hand and lessen the load. It’s a great way to show appreciation for the effort put towards your benefit and a means of returning a little goodwill. If you’re told that it isn’t necessary, maybe challenge it by saying it’s your personal way of giving thanks this holiday. Either way, don’t just be a slouch on the couch and help out a little.

-Don’t make the meal the only enjoyment: Sports and other games are great ways of making even more family memories during the holidays. A game on the TV is great, but maybe a board or card game later? Making the most of the holiday, in particular, is usually something nobody ever regrets. Put the friends on hold this day and spend it with the best ones you’ll ever have.

-Spend some special time with those you love: Maybe it’s morning coffee with dad or afternoon tea with mom, but set aside a little time to specifically connect with those you love. This can be particularly special with the elder members of your family because it’s easy to just live in the moment and forget that time and lives are limited and you never know how many holidays you’ll have with those who are special and cherished.

For more tips on enjoying your Thanksgiving with the family check out:

Puksta Self-Care: Scent Your Scene!

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Let’s be honest, students don’t always have the best smells around them. Week-old garbage, stinky socks, litter boxes that should’ve been emptied a few days (weeks) ago, and moldy pizza. Studies and papers, especially around finals time, tend to divert attention away from those things that can be a source of tension with dorm/roommates and make your quality of life less than optimal. Nobody likes an offensive smell, but we often aren’t aware when we become the ones generating it. Stink begins and accrues slowly and subtly, so we often become familiar with something until we walk into where we live and exchange fresh air for something that can have us wheezing and sometimes (even worse) heaving.

Tips for Scent:

-Clean up and wash up: The first step in getting your scent refreshed is to clean up and/or dispose of those things that often make the worst stink. Trash and dishes can often be the worst culprits as decaying food can make your home smell like a dumpster. Get that trash thrown out and put a little elbow grease to those dirty plates (rotting potatoes can be a major source of stink). You’ll notice the difference almost instantly. Cat boxes and laundry piles can also make your haven into a smelly hell, so change the litter and maybe do laundry once a week (pick a day and stick to it). Not only will you be living healthier, but it will also improve your mood and focus.

-Air things out: If the weather allows, crack open a window or patio door and let some of the outside in. Once the offensive odors are gone and the apartment/dorm room is clean, use some fresh air (don’t forget to safeguard the pets) to get the last remnants of those bad smells out. A scented cleaning agent is a great way of starting the process, but nature is often the next (and natural) best next step.

-Start small and build from there: There are a number of products that can improve the scent of where you live. Oils, diffusers, candles, incense, and room fresheners are all proven ways of making your space smell better and make your time indoors more enjoyable. Whichever you choose, start with something small and see if it does the job. You can always add but be aware that you can have too much of a good thing and can overwhelm yourself with something that’s normally enjoyable. Also, be careful with anything that requires flame or heat and make sure to take necessary precautions and be aware of pets and fire/smoke sensors.

-Dryer sheets can be your friends: Not just for making your laundry smell fresh, they can reduce static cling and keep enclosed areas (like gym bags and cars) smelling fresher. Be careful of pets getting ahold of them, but dryer sheets can help to lend some freshness to your life.

Some additional info on the benefits of good smells and the many uses of dryer sheets can be found at:
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/scents-and-wellbeing_n_5193609 and thespruce.com/use-dryer-sheets-around-the-house-4060532