Scholar Category: Youth Mentoring

Nina Patterson

Major: Business

Project: My idea right now is trying to figure out a way to educate families and students specifically POCs on AP and concurrent enrollment classes. In order to increase the number of POCs that choose to further their education in college and how these classes can help them with that.

Inspiration: Growing up I had always chosen to take AP/Honors courses and in all those years I was usually one of the only POC in my classes and I didn’t notice it until about my senior year. And most of my peers didn’t take them because they were scared away by them being harder and counselors telling them that the regular classes would be easier for them. When in all reality they were not educated on the classes and how they could help them in the future.

Future Goals: I want to show POC students that they are worthy and just as capable as any other students to take those advanced courses and succeed in them. And I want families to have more education on the classes that their children are taking and the impact that they have on their futures.

Zoë Stelzer

Major: Finance

Project: I would like to pursue working with internationally adopted children. Typically, these children are underrepresented and lack knowledge about their culture and birth countries. Partnering with organizations like CCAI can give access to more resources such as heritage tours. I also want to work towards making these programs more affordable.

Inspiration: Growing up, I was very privileged to be able to attend cultural classes, mandarin lessons, and even go on a heritage tour in China. While these are not affordable and in recent years have started to go away, I think they are very important for young children and I want to share the same opportunities I had with others.

Future Goals: I would like to partner with CCAI and get the heritage tours back up and running. I think I can help bridge that translation and cultural divide with American parents and internationally adopted children. I think working towards making these more well-known and affordable would be a great start in my Puksta journey.

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.

Mariela Irene Paul

Major: Human Development and Family Studies

Project: My project works with children experiencing homelessness in the city of Fort Collins. I plan on working with an organization for homelessness, Family Housing Network, as well as CSU student to become mentors and a support system for these children. We will assist the children in the program with school work and do different fun activities to engage with each child.

Inspiration: Key communities at CSU has inspired me to choose my project. During my first year at CSU, I had the pleasure to connect with the Family Housing Network through my Key Cluster(Service). Volunteering at this organization made me want to further my contribution by working with children in homelessness.

Future Plans: Through my project, I hope to involve and educate other CSU students about homelessness. I also hope to accomplish my goal of making the children feel like they are capable of pursuing higher education and have the support of CSU students throughout their journey called life.

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.



Maelah Robinson-Castillo

Major: Molecular Biology and Chemistry

Project: My Puksta Project for this upcoming year will have to be to navigate and guide non-profit organizations and schools on how and what youth engagement is. Also to help them create or guide them on how to start up youth boards or have youth join them in there efforts and missions that are around youth or for youth.

Inspiration: My inspiration on my Puksta Project would experiencing the lack of youth engagement in my hometown school district and how youth didn’t have a voice on issues that matter about them. Also seeing a disconnected between students and teachers. I have also seen a lot of organizations that are supposed to be about youth or for youth efforts in all aspects but they don’t have any youth in their organization. So they are just assuming what youth want, which I believe is not okay at all.

Future Plans: I hope to accomplish on making communities and making youth feel like they matter. Also giving youth opportunities through being involved in youth councils/ youth collaboratives that they feel safe, have someone they feel like is their mentor and be able to advocate for what they believe is right and what they love. Also to see that even one has the purpose to lead and be the change for there community despite their background. For the adults, I hope to see that they find that youth are just humans just like them. And they get to collaborate and see what youth can bring to there organization. But also to support them and create a positive relationship with each youth. In order to create a positive youth engagement environment.

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.

Samantha Vidal

Projects: Creation of a youth program that focuses on physical activity and mental development.


Inspiration: I have a niece who is 5 years old and a nephew who is 4 years old. My niece is a swimmer. Swimming is not just a sport it helped her gain trust in others, learn skills and persistence. She is tiny and yet she still pushes herself to swim everyday better. She has learned to be patient and to believe in herself. My nephew is a funny little guy. He is not very patient when learning his numbers or something involving his thinking, but when it comes to soccer or some sort of activity he will give you his complete attention. You tell him some rules and he will follow them.


Anthony Salazar

Project: My project concentrates on helping students specifically seniors navigating the financial aspect of college. Getting in is one step but anybody hardly talked about how to make it a financial reality which seems far out of reach for most students.  This tends to be the case a majority of the time. Although the thing really preventing students from coming to a University is a lack of education on how to make college a financial reality.


Inspiration: Coming from a low-income neighborhood there was an immense need for post-secondary option transition coaches. I only knew of one from my district who was hard to get help from. Seeing this as well as my peers struggle joking but being serious on how much harder it is to pay to college not get that acceptance letter. Inspiration sparked in me to help make a change to this.


Future Plans for Project: My main goal is to help the seniors in my current school and I hope it’ll have a ripple affect on upcoming seniors so they can see college is an obtainable goal.