By Kathleen Ferrick, Program Coordinator
Puksta Scholars make social change happen that is grounded in community organizing principles and solidarity. Each year, the University of Denver (DU) recognizes the amazing collaborative public good work carried out by Puksta scholars at the Puksta Passage event. The event provides an opportunity to bring together the entire Puksta community including new and current scholars, graduating seniors, alumni, as well as DU and Puksta Foundation leadership. This year’s event continued previous traditions of wisdom sharing by graduating scholars, welcoming incoming scholars, and community building over a shared meal.
The Puksta Scholars program is a four-year developmental civic engagement program and intentionally diverse community. Each Puksta Scholar creates a community engaged project focused on addressing a social issue they care about. It goes without saying that these efforts require huge amounts of passion and dedication.
As the new program coordinator, it was an incredible honor to witness the milestones and life-changing experiences acknowledged throughout the ceremony. This year’s graduating seniors, Aaqil Anwar and Allie Grossberg, both exemplify the community-grounded social justice leadership that is at the heart of the Puksta Scholars program. Aaqil and Allie took turns sharing their words of wisdom that included personalized ‘thank yous’ to current Puksta scholars, memories of their time at DU, and an emphasis on how the Puksta program has impacted their lives.
Aaqil focused his Puksta project on addressing Islamophobia within academic institutions. He has been able to leverage his unique experiences, countless demonstrations of leadership, and strong commitment to academics to confidently shape a community-based research project that addresses Islamophobia at DU and in the larger Denver community. Aaqil will be graduating with a degree in finance and plans to pursue a career in investment banking and private equity.
Allie dedicated her Puksta project to the creation of a research study regarding the biological, cognitive, and social mechanisms of curiosity. Her project investigates the potential effects of curiosity on aging populations and on their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Allie consistently distinguished herself through her deep commitment to community-based research, establishment of university and community partnerships, and vision in creating study structures. She will be graduating with double majors in psychology and biology and plans to continue working in the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
In addition to the inspiring reflections of Puksta seniors, we also heard from Puksta alumna, Fatima Rezaie, who graduated from DU in 2015. During her speech she said “Puksta is not a four-year commitment, but a way of life”. Her words rang incredibly true as demonstrated by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm expressed by all present.
The Puksta Passage was an absolute joy to be a part of and I’m grateful to everyone whose efforts make the Puksta Scholars program possible.