Scholar Category: Education

Marissa Alejandra Martinez Suarez

Project: Textbook racism is a big issue in education that subconsciously affects youth and makes them feel ashamed of their identities. As a result, students experience internalized trauma where they do not see themselves succeeding because history does not show people like them achieving great things. I want students to feel empowered and unafraid to be themselves, so for my Puksta project, I am going to find ways to bring more representation in the school’s curriculum and potentially create a program that teaches students how to embrace their cultures.


Inspiration: Throughout my education, I never once had a Latinx teacher around to respond to my cultural necessities. Although the teachers I had were great individuals, none of them could understand how discouraging it can feel to look inside a textbook and not see anyone that matches your ethnicity, to read about the alleged heroes who murdered those who looked like you, and to never once be taught the positive impacts your community has made. Understanding the negative impacts of these one-sided portrayals, I want to empower students by teaching them about their powerful and dynamic cultures through history.


Future Plans: By bringing more representation in the school’s curriculum, I wish to motivate students in their studies and future successes to get them to a place where they are not only learning about history but creating it as well.

Emanuel Walker

Project: My Puksta Project focuses on the racial disparities amongst students of color regarding retention and college completion. I’m currently developing a one-year comprehensive program for full-time African American freshmen that emphasizes experiential learning, research, multicultural engagement, and personal development. It includes a reward and accountability system to track academic performance and encourage students to explore pathways and careers early on. We would be helping students establish their “why” to have the motivation, leadership skills, college readiness, and confidence they need to land internships and be successful in the rest of their academic career.


Inspiration: My personal experiences and data are what inspire me. From my personal life, I am a student who used to struggle in school. I graduated high school with a 1.6 GPA and attended a college that did not help me succeed. It wasn’t until I attended a Community College that led me to a first-generation leadership program that equipped me with the skills to graduate top of my class and speak at graduation. I’ve seen many of my fellow African American students disappear, dropout, and end u lost due to lack of support and information. Schools take pride in their diversity, but some lack the data to back it up from what I’ve seen on the state level. The data shows that African American Studen Retention is down 12% for second years at MSU Denver. It also shows that African American students are least likely to take advantage of school resources, internships, and other programs designed to help them succeed. However, on the contrary, students of color who are engaged in clubs or take a multicultural class, engage in a research project, internship, or study abroad are twice as likely to graduate and stay in school than their peers.

Future Plans: I hope to set a foundation for real equity and student empowerment. I want to create a program that fosters the next generation of MSU Denver Leaders and puksta scholars, doctors, mayors, and lawyers. I would like to see an increase in African American 2nd to 4 Year retention and African American Graduation rates starting the beginning of this program. MSU Denver is one of the most diverse campuses in colorado, with students from all walks of life; it’s time for us to pour into our diverse pipeline so they can pour into our local communities and ultimately back into us. I hope to set a statewide precedent of what it looks like to take an underrepresented group of students and transform them into scholars and leaders in their future industries.

Abighail Menghisteab Tekeste

Project: For the upcoming academic year, my project entails creating a solid system of workshops that navigate how to make higher education accessible for senior students in ESL (English as Second Language) classes at Fort Morgan High School. The workshops will entail instruction on how to apply for higher education (technical school, community college, 4-year university etc.) as well as different ways to help alleviate the financial burdens that come with it.


Inspiration: Working with Fort Morgan High School in my first-year with Key Communities, I was made aware of the lack of certain amenities that students in the ESL classes were faced with along with the burdens that already came with being minority students (language barriers, legal status, academic history). I resonated with a majority of the students as I had also been in ESL classes before and I was better able to communicate and empathize with them. Whereas I lived in the Denver metro area and was blessed to have many opportunities easily attainable, the students of Fort Morgan lack that. This ultimately compelled me even more to work with them.


Future Plans: With my community engagement work, I hope to not only be a resource for the students but also help build their confidence in their abilities and demonstrate that their obstacles they face in their educational journey can serve as an advantage.

Melanin Nahomi Armendariz-Figueroa

Project: A mentoring program that will break the barriers to an equitable access to education by creating a safe space for students of color and ensuring that they are healthy, supported and engaged. In this space we will help them address their mental health, provide more knowledge of higher education (or other alternatives), help them better understand racial and ethnic equality, and better provide resources for undocumented/ first gen students.


Inspiration: Throughout my high school career (even now in college) I sometimes feel isolated and not very well represented. I didn’t see myself reflected in the staff at my school and felt as if there were many opportunities that I was not made aware of. This made me want to offer that to students who may find themselves in the same position I was in. I want to give them hope and show them that everyone is able to follow their dreams ❤️


Future Plans: I hope to create a space where students feel emotionally, physically and academically supported. While also, providing them with the information and resources needed to plan/achieve an amazing future.

Tiffany Rivera-Campos

Project: I would like to address the lack of diversity in upper-level high school courses.


Inspiration: I was one of the few students of color in my upper-level high school courses.


Plans for the future: I would like to encourage more students of color to take upper-level courses that could benefit their future.

Camilla Rodriguez

Project: I would like to work with first-generation college students who want to go to college. I would like to mentor these students and help them obtain a higher education.

Inspiration: I am a first-generation college student. I come from an immigrant family and I knew I had to find my own resources to obtain a higher education. The process was very difficult and I know other students are in the same shoes I am and I want to support them.

Future Plans for Project: I hope to increase diversity on campuses and have more first-generation students obtain a college degree.



Zoe Grisez

Project: I am working to further disability inclusion in the media (TV shows, movies, advertisements, etc.). It is rare that there ever is a disabled character featured in the media, and when they are, they are often depicted as a source of inspiration to make the main characters feel better about their lives. I would like to change that stigma and increase the thought that disabled characters could be a love interest, funny side character, or really anything!

Inspiration: As I went through the college application process and toured the universities, they all had a point during their presentation where they bragged about how diverse they were. There would be a PowerPoint slides showing their diversity, emphasizing on the different races and ethnicities on campus. But there was never a disabled student. As everyone else would nod in agreement that, yes this is a diverse campus, I would shake my head as I never saw someone who looked like me. So I would like to try to encourage a FULL diversity, and do so through the media.

Future Plans: I hope to increase the amount of disabled characters depicted on TV shows and movies. I think it is very important that all minorities are represented so that younger generations can learn more. As younger generations are exposed more and more to different people, they are less likely to think of them as different and more likely to just think of them as people.

Betelhem Tewodros

Project: This year I plan on working with the Denver Police Department and a body cam company to prevent Police brutality. When police wear body cams, their actions are, and their power put in check. Which is already being implemented; however, many underfunded police departments can’t afford to buy cams and so don’t have the same amount of responsibility, which often can result in unchecked police brutality. Some police officers have figured out that you can turn off cameras and tamper with the evidence so they can get away with certain crimes they might have committed. To solve this issue, I propose the creation of an independent third party monitoring group entirely funded by tax money. This group would monitor police activity and conduct and vet their operations every week. My multi-year plan is to support and gather taxpayer money.

Inspiration: Seeing all the brutality on TV and the Police brutality seems to be on those who come from a low-income background which I am and minority families suffer under the oppression of the powerful in our society.

Future Plans: I hope to be able to get a body cam that is controlled by a company so the cops won’t be able to turn it off or delete evidence for the safety of the civilians and also minorites who are most likely targets of police brutality.

Ari Gibson

Project: Through my Puksta project, I am hoping to help fill the current void surrounding LGBTQ+ education in elementary, middle, and high schools. While other topics regarding diversity are becoming commonplace in classrooms, the important aspects of diversity surrounding those who identify as gender and/or sexuality queer are lacking. I believe that introducing the subject matter to youth in health and sex education classes would enable them to learn about these different areas while helping start a path of self-discovery related to gender and sexuality. Through connecting with educators, providing resources for schools, and giving inclass presentations, I can introduce this content in a friendly, discussion-welcoming demeanor. If one isn’t aware that other genders and sexualities exist, they may find themselves struggling to understand why they’re attracted to certain people and feel certain ways about their gender. The dysphoria that can surround being queer is hard to manage1 2, but our youth need to know they’ll always have support from other LGBTQ+ community members, organizations, and allies, including those who are present in their daily academic lives.

Inspiration: Friends that are part of the LGBTQ+ community have helped me notice the lack of education about their gender expression and sexual orientation. They’ve also helped me see what it can be like to live with daily gender and sexuality dysphoria, making me see the importance for everyone to be able to express themselves, be called their correct name, and use their correct gender pronouns.

Future Plans: I would hope that my project helps youth identify their gender identities and sexual orientations while educating them about all the different forms of gender expression and sexualities that exist. I also want my project to help shift cultural attitudes towards those that identify as gender or sexuality queer.

Karen Nunez Sifuentes

Project: Support/mentor underrepresented high school students and their families. Through my mentorship, I want to create awareness of resources and college opportunities. I want to encourage them to pursue a college career and remove any obstacles that might prevent them from attending college.

Inspiration: Ever since I started college at MSU Denver, I have had this passion to help underrepresented high school students pursue a higher education. I am a Mexican woman pursuing a biochemistry major, and it has not been easy. I often encounter obstacles, such as not having enough opportunities available or being looked down upon because it is uncommon to see people like me in the science field. I want my experience and story to encourage kids to go beyond their limits and provide them with an unlimited amount of resources and opportunities.

Future Plans: I hope that I will be able to visit different schools and organize events with students and their families to provide resources and inform them about college. I want to provide resources so they are able to accomplish anything they want, regardless of their situations. I do not want kids to simply give up their dreams because of their race, a lack of money, or a lack of support from family and friends.