Magazine Feature / People

Close leaves changed perception of Greek community

According to D.J. Close, it’s not only what you learn in college, it’s what you do.

Close, who graduates from DU on June 5 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in Chinese, leadership and communications, should know what he is talking about. Over the past four years, Close spent time both in a classroom and in the community. A Puksta scholar whose full name is actually Douglas James, he participated in the Pioneer Leadership Program and served as the Greek Council’s vice president of community service and philanthropy as a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

During his first and second year at DU, Close volunteered with organizations such as Denver’s Road Home, PeaceJam and participated in several campus recycling initiatives. He says volunteering “opened my eyes to the Denver community and changed my misconceptions about the homeless.”

That’s when the Durango, Colo., native decided to make social change happen at a local level as part of his Puksta project. The Puksta scholarship is a four-year developmental civic engagement program that requires recipients to identify and work on a community, civic or public policy project to foster a lifelong commitment to community leadership.

“Being involved in Greek life, I wanted to find a way to change the perception of Greeks,” Close says. “Greeks are doing so many great things both on campus and in the community, but philanthropy is not the first thing many people think about when they think Greek. As part of my Puksta project, I not only wanted to connect the Greek community with the leadership of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), but also enable a student-driven culture shift,” he says.

His work with sororities and fraternities on campus led to the development of a new model of Greek-focused community service and the creation of long-term campus-community partnerships. Close worked with the Greek Council to expand the impact of DU’s Greek community beyond campus through co-sponsored service days in partnership with CCESL and community partners.

“By first establishing a strong Greek life foundation dedicated to community, Greek leaders can start working to better understand the social justice issues within the Denver community,” he says.

And, according to Close, the partnership between sororities and fraternities extended camaraderie among chapters on campus while promoting a more accepting and socially conscious community.

“D.J. has been an extraordinary leader and organizer in the Greek and Puksta communities. Not only has he done amazing things on campus and in the community, he is highly respected by his peers and DU faculty and staff,” says Jenny Whitcher, Puksta program director and associate director in CCESL. “He will be greatly missed here at DU, but we eagerly look forward to seeing where he goes in life. Certainly he will have a tremendous impact on the critical issues facing our communities.”

When he is not creating social change, he likes to spend time working with Denver youth as a volunteer hurdles coach for the South High School track team.

“I like helping youth discover their own leadership abilities and the power to question and change the world around them,” he says. “I believe that in teaching youth to think critically and imagine what is possible, rather than live with the world as it is, we will ensure the development of active citizens who are capable of taking an active part in society.”   

Earlier this year, Close, working with the Greek Council and CCESL, launched a pilot leadership initiative with South High School. Fraternity members and CCESL students began tutoring and mentoring sophomore, junior and senior men with a long-term goal of increasing access to college.

Close plans to continue his involvement in the community when he graduates. In fact, not long after graduation, he will move to Colorado Springs, Colo., to begin a two-year leadership training fellowship with the El Pomar Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the state. Fellows operate the foundation’s community stewardship programs, conduct outreach initiatives and assist with grant-making and investments in the people and organizations of Colorado.

“Each of the experiences I had during college enabled me to expand my understanding of the importance of building a strong community in order to accomplish important goals,” he says. 

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