So Happy to be able to celebrate our Amazing MSU Puksta Grads: Ari Gibson and Duvia Ortega!!! We got snowed out in May for our first try for this event and nearly got rained out this time in July!
I guess the skies above wanted in on the celebration action as well!! Congrats to our incoming Puksta’s and continue to rock it to all of our continuing Puksta Scholars. So proud of you all! And a HUGE thank you to Illegal Pete’s Lodo for sponsoring our MSU Puksta Passage Celebration… that was more than generous and we are so grateful!
What a wonderful evening of catching up, meeting new faces, enjoying tasty treats, and of course celebrating our wonderful Puksta Grads!
Congratulations Jenny Truong, Rosie Contino, Jessica Rangel Leon, Gelella Nebiyu and Shaunice Dedner!!!
Thank you to our guest speakers Oscar Saenz (DU Puksta Alum ’20), John Mulstay (President/Founder of Puksta) and Anne DePrince (DU Associate Vice Provost for Public Strategy & Research), all who brought such inspiration and joy to the room with their words. Thank you to all of our scholars, their families and friends who came to support them in their journey! Jackie Tran thank you for stepping into the coordinator role these last few months! Welcome John Macikas to the Puksta family, we are so excited to share the next adventures as a Puksta Coordinator with you. And last but most certainly not least… Thank you to Kathleen Ferrick for the four amazing years that you have spent with us and the Puksta Scholars. You warmth, kind heart and smile that lights up a room will be sorely missed.
What a beautiful time of year to visit Fort Collins, bursting with spring and blossoms it’s the season of transformation and starting anew. In addition to the beauty surrounding us, we are there for the beautiful celebration of our incredible Puksta Grad, Dulce Olmedo! Congratulations Dulce you earned this and we are excited about your next chapter.
A huge thank you to our Rockstar Puksta Coordinator Sam Desta! Such a beautiful event to bring our CSU Scholars together. You can feel the love in the room and see the joy in all of the scholars faces. Thank you to all the CSU staff/faculty, friends and families that were able to join us. A big welcome to our incoming Pukstas and keep rocking it to our continuing Puksta Scholars!!
For the first time in 2 years, we were able to celebrate our Puksta Scholar Seniors in person and give a warm welcome to our incoming first-year Puksta Scholars. It was such a pleasant change of pace to see everyone’s smiles without the cold filter of the computer screen. The evening started with a Poster Presentation. Guests and family members were able to walk around the room to engage with our continuing scholars as they showcase the work they are doing in the community. Seeing what they are working on and the passion they hold to help others is truly inspiring. As the evening progressed, we shifted gears and listened to our Puksta Seniors give their presentations on how Puksta and their work in the community have shaped their journey through college.
Lluvia gave her presentation in English and Spanish as she discussed her work on making sure mental health tools are available to undocumented individuals.
Mateo moved us with his live recitation of his spoken word poem “Ode to Federal Bouldevard”. A beautiful closing after conveying his love of increasing access to arts edication for low-income youth of color. Click here to see his poem
Sara shared her journey leading her from the topic of diaspora to realizing her passion for increasing mental health awareness and treatment advocacy for immigrants, refugees and their families.
Sana, unfortunately was not able to join us for the evening, but we are so proud of the work she has done as a mentor and guide for underrepresented high school and college students.
It was a beautiful evening spending time with one another and celebrating the hard work of our Puksta Scholars. To quote one of our speakers of the night, Dean of the School of Education, Kathy Shultz, “This room is so full of love and the world is in such need of it”. Kathy, we will do our best to continue to spread that Puksta Love.
Sending out a huge thank you to our Puksta Coordinator Ana Contreras and the CU Team (especially Mayra) for making this night such a memorable one. Thank you to our speakers Ana Contreras, Roudy Hildreth, Kathy Shultz, and John Mulstay for sharing your thoughts, memories, and kind words with us. Thank you to our guests and family members of our Puksta Scholars, your love and support mean the world. Most importantly thank you to our Puksta Scholars, you are the heart and soul of the Puksta Scholar Program. You inspire us every day and we are so proud of all that you are doing.
“Everyone was kind, open, and so civically minded. What else could you want? It was a place I could feel inspired,” said Puksta Alum (CSU ’16) Chand Jiwani as she reflected on her memories as a Puksta Scholar. Since then, she’s continued the Puksta tradition of spreading kindness, positivity, and inspiration to others. Even in her professional life now, she maintains the spirit of service in all she does. Only four years after graduating, Jiwani has already elevated to the position of Senior Specialist of Engagement & Inclusion at Boston Medical Center, where she serves marginalized communities in New England’s largest safety-net hospital.
Service has always been at Jiwani’s core. Her Puksta project focused on the elderly population, a community that is often overlooked. She led programs at a local Fort Collins nursing home to keep patients active physically, mentally, and most importantly, socially. “They really appreciated the chance to connect with someone,” Chand said, “but I really feel like I benefited more from it than they did.” Beyond being able to practice leadership and civic service, she cites learning to develop relationships with the patients and hearing their stories as the most enriching part of her experience.
Jiwani counts her ability to develop relationships as her biggest takeaway from her time with Puksta. “When you’re serving people, it’s important to speak to them in a way that’s not only eloquent, but also accessible,” she said. Programs around her work have involved communities ranging from people experiencing homelessness, to undocumented peoples, to local residents that just want to learn to cook more healthy. “Different people need to be approached differently so that they don’t get confused and miss out on chances to get the help they need,” she said.
Years and miles since her graduation at CSU, Chand Jiwani continues to spread the spirit of Puksta in all she does, and she hopes the next generation of young leaders get to experience the same thing. “It’s a family that will accept you as you are and elevate you to what you can be, nothing would ever change my recommendation,” said Jiwani.
While COVID has prevented all of us from gathering in person, it certainly hasn’t stopped us from connecting and sharing meaningful moments with each other, even if it is virtually. Normally around this time of year we’d be packing our bags to hit Estes for our annual retreat, but this year we decided to keep things physically distanced and do our first ever online Puksta Scholar Spirit Week instead. In true Puksta fashion, we all got together in the spirit of education, civic engagement, and family bonding.
We kicked off Monday’s events with a session on voting led by Jessie Jennett from IGNITE the Vote. For many of us, this election is the most important time in our lives to step up and be active citizens. We talked about our passions, frustrations, and what keeps us hopeful about the country we live in. Most importantly, we learned about our powers and capabilities to actually created change in the civic sphere. One of our own scholars Oliver Martinez-Reyes shared his experience of testifying in the state legislature and helping a bill passed to increase access to concurrent enrollment, proving that even as students, we still have power.
Tuesday we took things in a different direction and looked more inward as individuals. As civic minded young leaders, it is often too easy to get buried in all the problems of the world around us, without taking enough thought to ourselves. Riana Mitchell led our session, appropriately titled “All the Cares in the World… but who Cares for YOU?” The topic of self care has rightfully gained more widespread attention recently, and we haven’t needed it more than we’ve needed it this year. We learned how to take in deeper appreciation for the little things, not get crushed by the big things, and most importantly, give ourselves the chance to take a break and think about nothing every once in a while. Thanks to Riana we were able to equip ourselves with more tools to really examine and nurture our emotions and wellbeing in order to stay in the fight for justice.
For our next session we were so delighted to be led by two of our own alumni, Nick Martinez and Felipe Vieyra, as they talked about education equity and how to continue civic engagement during COVID-19. Although this pandemic has taken away many of the activism activities we’ve grown reliant on, it has presented new tools for us to use. As Nick pointed out in our session, there’s no reason why a district administrator shouldn’t be able to get on a zoom with 50 community leaders that have questions about the education system. Regardless of what we’re facing, there’s always an opportunity to connect, and there’s always a way to exercise our power as young leaders to demand change.
Thursday we went back to the world of self-help and self-improvement through a conversation with Charline Burgess from Morgan Stanley on financial literacy and financial health. For many of us, knowledge about personal finance was the kind of education we were missing the most. We asked tons of questions about budgeting, saving, and how to use credit especially. Like any other kind of wellness plan, we learned how to monitor our finances and identify areas that needed to be changed and improved.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the week was our daily zoom lunches. We gathered around the virtual dining table to connect with friends old and new from across all of our campuses. Whether it was with Scattergories, charades, or just talking about our days, we had tons of fun just getting to be in each other’s virtual presence. The lunches also offered a chance to really vent and talk to other student activists about all the trouble we’re experiencing in our own lives and in the world around us. In times like these, we are incredibly thankful to be able to lean on our Puksta family for hope, support, and inspiration.
On this edition of Scholar Spotlight, we talk with Mateo Manuel Vela and the way he’s using spoken word poetry to bring a creative emotional outlet to students in these very challenging times. Watch Below:
Aristotle famously said, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” The spirit of that quote very much lives inside the work of Puksta scholar Mateo Manuel Vela. At the age of 20, he is already stepping up to create spaces and opportunities for high school students to freely discuss express their identities and thoughts on the environment in which they exist, through the art of spoken word poetry. While many schools are moving towards more STEM focused curriculums, Mateo is making sure that the arts don’t get left behind. Work like his is becoming increasingly important as the world gets more complicated with culture, politics, and society shifting in ways nobody ever expected. This “education of the heart” is especially crucial for the marginalized youth that Mateo is serving, who are often labeled and impacted by society before they even get a chance to negotiate their own self-image.
Growing up, Mateo was confronted with the social implications of being a Latinx first generation American growing up in a lower-income neighborhood. This, on top of an early battle with depression caused a great deal of confusion for Mateo as to who he was and where he belonged. Thankfully, poetry found him through a workshop in one of his sixth grade classes. “Honestly, poetry saved my life,” he says, “it gave me the opportunity to critique the world around me, and also articulate my place in the world.” This gift of creative expression gave Mateo the freedom and agency to begin answering life’s big questions and develop him to become the man he is today. Through poetry he has been able to compete with the DSP Slam Poetry team, and get the paid opportunity to perform on various stages, including the international Brave New Voices competition in Washington, D.C. Even more impressive than his competitive accomplishments, however, is his work as a leader in bringing poetry to students that are also from underprivileged backgrounds.
Today, Mateo serves as a board member and teacher for Sacred Voices, a Denver based organization that provides access to poetry workshops and open mics for high school students from underserved communities. The majority of his classes are centered around writing about identity, experience, and environment. At the moment, his workshops are supplemental education that isn’t budgeted or scheduled into regular school curriculums, but Mateo’s project is part of the push to change that. “Art is a very human aspect of our lives,” he says, “and if [students] don’t get the opportunity to do that, I fear that they’re missing out on a lot of emotional and social growth.” His dream is to see arts programs become an uncuttable part of public school curriculum, but he understands that this will be difficult to achieve. Until then, he is dedicated to making sure that he can provide this education to as many students as he can, and creating a model that can be adopted by schools in the future.
We recently had the pleasure of virtually sitting down with current Puksta Scholar Betelhem “Betty” Tewodros to discuss the work her and her father have been doing to help the people of her hometown of Jijiga, Ethiopia. Watch now below:
Betty was only eight years old when she left Jijiga with her family to come to America, but her heart has always been and will always be back home. For her, maintaining her native language and culture are a central aspect of her identity and daily life. Although she is based in Denver now, she still attends a traditional Ethiopian church, stays active in the local Ethipoian community, and celebrates Ethiopian holidays. Along with all the work she has done to make sure Jijiga stay a part of her life, she’s also made sure to keep her life a part of Jijiga.
When Ameha Admassu, a family friend, shared stories of difficulty and need in Jijga on Facebook, Betty and her father Teddy knew they had to help. Elsewhere in America and other Western countries, other Jijiga natives felt the same: Dawit Degenu, Dereje Asefaw, Wondwossen Tadesse, and Yonas Delelegn. Like Betty, they understood that living in the West puts them in a position of power to help those back home. Together, they joined forces and started a GoFundMe page to fund assistance in the form of masks, hand sanitizers, food and other basic necessities. Through their first campaign, they have raised over $6,000 which was directed to the ENAT Organization which distributed the supplies together with the Jijiga Regional Health Bureau.
Betty credits community elders like her grandmother for instilling this spirit of service and generosity in her. Respect for elders is a pillar of Ethiopia’s culture. With the first fundraising campaign having come to an end, and life slowly getting back to normal in Jijiga, Betty is now gearing up to launch a second campaign specifically to help the elders in Jijiga. For them, normal will come much later than it will for younger generations. Being higher risk, and less capable of managing daily tasks, the elders will be the ones that need the most help. Still, the duty of helping elders is one that Betty is more than willing to take on. In her eyes, there is no work more important than helping the generation that spent their lives raising the community she loves. Betty wants to do everything she can to pay this generation back, and set an example for other young people to do the same.