Academics and Research

Puksta Scholars work hard to make a difference

For Puksta scholars, hard work is the key to reaping great rewards.

“Puksta scholars aren’t just college students; they are catalysts for change on campus and in their local communities,” explains Jenny Whitcher, the Puksta program director and associate director of DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). “This is a four-year community engagement program that happens to have a scholarship attached to it.”

Puksta scholarships are awarded annually to three incoming first-year students who are Colorado residents. The program aims to create a new generation of leaders who have a high sense of civic duty and ethical standards in addition to strong academic goals. As part of the scholarship, each recipient learns public skills and develops a sustainable civic engagement project based on community-identified needs. They work on these projects while at DU.

The Puksta Foundation was established through a gift from Harry and Eva Puksta, longtime residents of the Denver area.

“The program is about building a lifelong meaningful commitment to building social justice in our communities,” Whitcher says. “While scholars work on their own independent or small group public work projects, they also work together as a larger Puksta community, supporting and mentoring one another and taking leadership of the program itself in collaboration with CCESL staff.”

There are 12 Puksta scholars currently at DU. Three Puksta scholars just graduated: Ally Veneris, who majored in English and international studies with minors in leadership and Italian; Kali Smith, a sociology major with Spanish, leadership and international studies minors; and DJ Close, a political science major with minors in leadership, Chinese and communications. Their projects ranged from working with cancer survivors at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Hematology Oncology and creating post-education access for Denver Public Schools students to developing a more meaningful community-service model for DU’s Greek community.

The incoming Puksta scholars are:

Aminta Menjivar, Littleton High School, is interested in working with immigrant communities to reform political attitudes around immigrants. Menjivar wants to study political science in order to understand the leadership needed to work with political issues.

Brittany Morris, Rampart High School, wants to work with students struggling with low self-esteem because of learning disabilities such as ADD and dyslexia. She plans to study psychology and its connections to special education.

Cristina Smith, Centaurus High School, is interested in working on gender issues and domestic violence; she plans to study history to resolve such large social issues.

A fourth honorary scholar will also work with the program. Mohammad Hadi, Denver School for Science and Technology, wants to work with immigrant and refugee communities to ease their transitions into American culture. While at DU he hopes to study biochemistry.

Comments are closed.