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Galvanizing Tomorrow’s Civic Leaders: Fostering Virtual Community with DU Puksta Scholars

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By: Kathleen Ferrick, Student Program Coordinator, CCESL

Article  •
Students  •

There’s no question that the DU Puksta Scholars program has been different this fall. As a close-knit community of 21 undergrads, in-person meetings and events throughout the year have, in the past, always been a given. 

Initially, the prospect of moving all Puksta programming online was a daunting challenge. It was difficult to imagine fostering the same level of connection and community in a virtual space. In addition, a significant aspect of the Puksta Scholar experience is a major commitment to community-engaged work. Scholars expressed concern about their abilities to continue promoting social justice without the same options for in-person collaboration. 

To begin addressing these questions, everyone on the cross-campus Puksta team (including John & NiChel Mulstay of the Puksta Foundation and program coordinators from University of Denver, Colorado State University, University of Colorado & Metropolitan State University) worked together to figure out a successful path forward. This collaboration resulted in a clear focus on utilizing virtual platforms to foster community support and promote mental health. 

Throughout Fall quarter, DU Puksta Scholars began every Zoom meeting with a brief meditation and grounding exercise before sharing personal updates with the group. Opening the space in this way has supported relational connecting among Scholars, which is reinforced by frequent use of small group breakout conversations. Rather than devoting time together to managing tasks, Puksta meeting and retreat content has focused on practicing self-compassion with an emphasis on the importance of healing and rest. 

Scholars have grappled with the implications of the pandemic regarding their social justice work in the community. In many cases, Scholars had to shift in-person community-engaged projects to virtual settings. In responding to changing demands, Scholars are learning to think of community engagement as a nonlinear process that may or may not result in a concrete finished product and to recognize the value of their community collaborations regardless. 

As the end of the quarter approaches, the Puksta Scholars community will continue to prioritize offering a space where Scholars can show up as their full selves; where everyone can both give and receive unconditional support. While this is something that’s always been at the core of the program, there has never been a more important time to embody these values.