Scholar Category: Education

Joe Sammen

What are you up to now?

I’m the Executive Director of Center for Health Progress, the leading health equity advocacy organization in Colorado. We bring people together to ensure the health care system works for everyone. I’m responsible for external leadership, strategy, staff and Board management, and fundraising for the organization. We currently have a dynamic team of 12 leaders working in community and at the Capitol using policy advocacy, grassroots organizing, alliance building, communications, and messaging.

My partner Haley and I are raising two young children, Oliver and Matilda, and run an urban farm in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Denver.

Joe’s Linkedin Profile

Nicholas Kukucka

After graduating from college, I was immediately hired as an apprentice teacher at DSST Public schools. However, I remained in this position for only a few months before being asked to teach the Spanish for Native Speakers II (SNS II) course at our school. In my second year at DSST I continued to hone my abilities as a teacher by teaching SNS II as well as American History. However, in my third year teaching, I was asked to assume the role of Assistant Director of our growing Entrepreneurial Studies (E-Ship) course at DSST. The course had been established just a few years prior and had grown into a senior intensive course serving about 15 seniors each year. However, we wanted to scale the program to serve 100 9th graders and 160 8th graders. In my role, I develop and implement curriculum to empower young people to create meaningful impact by identifying and solving real world problems in their communities. I also strategize to continue to scale the program and dramatically increase impact. We also are working on a number of projects that run alongside the main E-Ship program including a study abroad program with students and foreign partners in East Africa as well as a podcast titled We Must Start.

David Campos-Cardenas

Project: My goal is to empower the DACA / Undocumented students by showing them lawful knowledge. I am apart of two organizations, MSU Dreamers Network and DSF. At the MSU Dreamers Network; I gave knowledge to teachers and admin here at MSU. We conducted multiple presentations with the goal of giving faculty a little bit more understanding about the DACA community and how they can help strength our presence. With DSF, I help mentor DACA high school students. I teach them the principles of applying to colleges and scholarships.

Inspiration: I was once in their shoes. I don’t want any student feeling like they can’t go to college because of their citizenship status.

Future Plans for Project: I hope to make students feel like they have the capability of attending college. I want to make them feel like they’re worth a lot more then what they think.

Monica Simpson

Project: MSU Denver has a significant number of non-traditionally aged students. Some are returning to school after a few or many years away, and some have never before had the opportunity to attend a university and earn a degree. Older students have distinct needs and challenges, as well as unique wisdom and supports to offer one another. The Wisdom Collective is a student organization that will allow and encourage older students to make meaningful connections with others who understand their journey. Our goal is to build community & connection, support & safety, and resources & resilience.

Inspiration:I found myself back in school after being widowed and raising my children to adulthood. There were numerous compelling and practical reasons I needed and wanted to earn my degree. My story isn’t really terribly unique; there is a substantial number of older students on our campus who’ve faced significant life challenges and are now working to balance academics and other responsibilities while pursuing a new or growing career. There are few if any resources that address our specific situation, and after talking with other non-traditional students I realized that we are in the best position to support ourselves. We have amazing adaptability and strengths! Our stories and experiences are our greatest assets, and I saw the need to create a place where we could share our wisdom, ideas, and encouragement with one another.

Future Plans for Project: My hope is that The Wisdom Collective will be a place of community, support, and resources for non-traditionally aged students. I’d love to see a student organization that not only looks after its own members, but also takes part in campus service projects to address needs of our student body as a whole. We are already working on two significant service projects for our inaugural 2018-2019 year: A Fall food drive for our school food pantry, and a Spring event to encourage and teach self-care to all students. I also envision steadfast and growing support of our members for one another, so that they can see their own true strengths and abilities and move forward into the next chapter of their lives with the knowledge and confidence that they are capable of affecting change in their own communities.

Kevin McQuirk

Project: My project for the Puksta foundation is a year long 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 which 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 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 road block in the way of these goals. In Impact the Youth, I will build mentor-mentee relationships with high school students by inviting them 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 campus 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.


Inspiration: My experience in through a Puksta alumni’s project at CU Boulder with Juedon Kebede.


Future Plans for Project: I hope to help more underrepresented students enter college and obtain STEM degrees.

Jhovani Becerra

Project: My Puksta Project will focus on engaging high school students to advocate for better school discipline policies/practices to be implemented in Denver Public Schools. The goal is to ensure that students have access to a quality education without any barriers. Another thing for this year is that I want to help prepare new college students in any challenges in order for them keep on track with their academic plan and prevent any chance of them to fall behind.


Inspiration: As an undocumented immigrant, I have been exposed to the social inequities in our culture. There are forms of systematic oppression that linger in our communities. Observing the excessive exclusionary discipline practices in my middle school has sparked a passion in me to prevent the appalling consequences these practices have on a students education. I want all schools to have a supportive school environment, like I had in my High School.


Future Plans for Project: The bigger picture of my project is to abolish institutional barriers in education so all students can have an opportunity to succeed. Slowly making progress through advocacy to change the cultural traditions to discipline to more progressive and humane practices.