Scholar Category: Education

Mariajose Baca 

Major: Business

Project: Bringing awareness to the lack of opportunity students with disabilities have to attend college.

Inspiration: My family has inspired me and continues to inspire me to choose this Puksta Project

Future Goals: I would like colleges and universities to understand how important this issue is.

Cristal de la Torre

Major: Finance and Marketing

Project: Sharing essential financial knowledge to underrepresented communities. My goal is to spark an interest in people so that they want to expand their financial knowledge and invest in their future when it comes to finances, as it is such an important part of life that is often overlooked.

Inspiration: Family, friends, mentors, and books. I have always had an interest in being financial literate and have done my best to be and give that I have this amazing opportunity to help guide others in that direction, it is an opportunity I will make the most of.

Future Goals: I hope to reach more communities that may benefit from my work and be a mentor for those who seek guidance.

Anh Bui

Major: Biology

Project: My current plan for the upcoming school year is to expand the mentorship program I have. I want to create a website with information that can benefit high school students coming from low-socioeconomic schools. This website will have resources like internships, pre-collegiate programs, Q&A, and information about college (applying, resume, cover letter, etc.

Inspiration: I decide to choose my Puksta Project based on my personal experience with Denver Public School. I felt that coming from a low-income school and as a first-generation student I didn’t have the resources that other students from wealthier schools had. This made applying to college harder since I wasn’t as competitive as the other students that had more resources. I spend hours at a time looking for opportunities outside of my school that would help me gain more experience and make me a better candidate. In this project, I want to be able to build connections with students in my community and offer them the support that I wish I had.

Future Goals: I hope to be able to build connections with these high school students and offer them my support and knowledge. Also, I hope that I am about to encourage and educate more students to attend college and the process so that it doesn’t seem so scary.


Jose “Josie” Duenas

Major: Psychology and Computer Science

Project: My Puksta project centers around increasing the representation of Latine/Undocumented youth in institutes of higher education. The journey to college often centers on a one-size-fits-all approach to education which tends to create a sense of exclusivity against Latine and Undocumented youth. I aim to work with local organizations in order to raise awareness on the issue and aid youth populations within Northern Colorado who seeks to attain a college education.

Inspiration: During my time in High School, I have seen the deficits of the education system when it comes to helping my community attain a college education. My journey to college was filled with immense fear and uncertainty as I tried to navigate through a system that was not built to serve me. Furthermore, I have come to realize that my experience is not isolated through my work as an undergraduate research assistant studying the issue at hand within communities in Colorado. This is why it is incredibly important for me to serve as a catalyst towards change surrounding Latine/Undoc. representation in institutes of higher education. The system has disproportionately harmed my community since its inception and it is time to bring change.

Future Goals: Short term, I would like to see Latine/Undoc. individuals within my local community not only become more informed about all the components needed in achieving a college education but actually see the youth begin their journey to college. Alongside this, I would like to raise awareness of the ineffective system that plagues Latine/Undoc. youth within Northern Colorado. As I further progress through my project, I would like to see my community thriving as we aim to build a better life for ourselves and our families through education.

Marissa Alejandra Martinez Suarez

Major: History, Political Science

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.

Sunjoi Gandhi

Major: Computer Science & Socio-Legal Studies

Project: Partnering with Girls Inc of Metro Denver(GIMD), a non-profit organization focused on girls’ education, to create a three-year advocacy program for high school-aged participants in hopes of helping them find their voice, recognize how much power they hold, and how much they can change the world.

Inspiration: Through the curriculum, GIMD is able to provide, young women, primarily women of color are given the opportunity to learn how to cultivate their voices and begin change-making early on in their social-justice career.

Future Goals: So far, this is a pilot program so we are learning as we go. I hope the program continues for as long as possible and young women have access to this opportunity and curriculum for years to come.

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

Major: International Studies and Political Science

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 the obstacles they face in their educational journey can serve as an advantage.

Melanin Nahomi Armendariz-Figueroa

Major: undeclared

Project: A mentoring program that will break the barriers to 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.

Camilla Rodriguez

Major: Political Science

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