Scholar Category: Racial Equity

Maddie Jade Allen

Major: Studio Art

Project: As of now I am unsure, but I am interested in something concerning the arts, racial justice/liberation, LGBTQ+ rights, and/or environmental causes

Inspiration: As a black lesbian woman (who is pursuing a career in the arts), I have personal connections to all of the subject matter listed above (including environmental matters as I have seen my communities be directly impacted by climate change).

Goals for future: I would like to raise awareness and encourage people to take action by reminding them of their personal power and influence, and also providing specific actions to take to cultivate meaningful progress.


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.

Manna Lee Naumann

Project: Working with police to create more comprehensive training in order to bring down the number of unnecessary violent incidents.

Inspiration: The police are currently in a crisis and have not been handling the situation well. I believe that American society has to create a better police force soon or risk more unnecessary violence.

Future Plans: I hope to create a more prepared police force that is taught more than shoot first and ask questions later.

Emily Rodriguez Aguirre

Project: The Puksta Project I hope to develop is a interactive and expressive space where minorities impacted by discrimination can communicate with others about their experiences; the implementation of a community like this allows minorities a source of support from other with similar struggles.


Inspiration: What inspired me to choose this Puksta Project was a community event that I attended recently this summer. It was amazing the impact someone’s story could have on a group of people. Everyone built relationships from the shared experiences.


Future Plans: What I hope to accomplish with my community engagement work is to make people aware of the micro-aggression present in all areas of life for certain people. I want people to be able to communicate their stories and share them with others in a safe environment.

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.

Jenny Truong

Project: This involves educating myself on the history of Asian Americans in the U.S. Understanding how Asians interact with other POCs and more. The goal of this entire project is how we can increase allyship as a two way street.


Inspiration: The issue not only resonates with me but many other students as well who have been my peers and mentees.

Margarita Soltero Gutierrez

Project: My Puksta project focuses on creating accurate sex education for Latina and African American high school girls as well as helping them learn about reproductive resources. This year in Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Inc., I helped with our Women of Tomorrow Conference by creating a pamphlet on sex education for girls to keep and take home. I also helped my sister on her sex education class and explained my pamphlet there! It had information on consent, birth control, STI’s and contacts. This is something that will carry on with our conference that is held every year!

Inspiration: After reading the graphic novel, “Waiting for Health Equity” by the Center for Health Progress, I was inspired by the following fact that stood out: ‚”Black and Latina teens are over twice as likely as white teens to become pregnant. This is due to the fact that non-white teens are less likely to have access to reproductive health resources and receive accurate sex education” (Center for Health Progress, 38).

Future Plans: Understanding the barriers to sexual health education can help inform development of a pilot program to reduce teen pregnancy rates among women of color.