College professor delights in empowering students

Joni Flowers is executive director of the Cultural Diversity Foundation.

Joni Flowers, a professor in the education department at the College of Southern Nevada, is founder, president and executive director of the Cultural Diversity Foundation, which aims to provide learning opportunities to disadvantaged populations, regardless of ethnic and cultural background. A 35-year employee at the college, Flowers started planning and hosting a scholarship fundraiser in 1996. This month, she is planning the 23rd Educational Taste of Excellence: Wine tasting, Spirits and Jazz Scholarship Fundraiser.

Tell us your background.

In 1983, I worked as a library assistant at CSN. Oftentimes, students would ask me to help them find scholarships. I realized that many students were in need of help, so I began coordinating scholarship workshops in the library. This was the beginning of volunteerism and community outreach for me.

Upon completing my master’s degree in 1992, I was given an opportunity to return to the CSN Library to accept a position of Technical Services Librarian. This was an incredible opportunity for me to teach the library staff and faculty how to use the internet, which was virtually unknown to many people at that time. Realizing that I had knowledge of such a powerful tool, I started offering free internet workshops to the community.

After eight years of volunteering to plan, manage and host the Educational Taste of Excellence fundraiser, I realized it was time to expand my horizons and put all of the community outreach projects that I was doing under my own umbrella. So in 2004, I launched the Cultural Diversity Foundation. I wanted our educational programs to reach people across all communities.

Do you have any recent news you’d like to share?

We are planning the 23rd annual Educational Taste of Excellence fundraiser. More than 100 varieties will be presented along with 16 restaurants and catering companies showcasing their food.

What is the mission at Cultural Diversity Foundation?

To empower our community through education by enhancing the educational, professional and personal growth of individuals through the development of educational programs that support upward mobility and job readiness for underserved Clark County residents.

What are some long-term goals of the organization?

To increase the number of scholarships and amounts of the awards. To expand our computer skills program by offering courses in Spanish, and to identify and develop programs that meet the needs of our community.

Can you tell us about someone who stands out to you as a success for the foundation?

One year, we awarded a student the Rhonda Jefferson Single Parent Scholarship. In her essay, she told her story about being a victim of human trafficking. Although it was an extremely difficult time for her, she was determined to pick herself up and create a better life for herself and for her children. She wanted to obtain her college degree in social work so she could help other women who had also suffered and been victims of human trafficking.

Tell us more about the Education Taste of Excellence.

In addition to the food and wine, we will have a blind tasting; silent and live auction; live jazz with saxophonist Darren Motamedy; and our scholarship recipients will be formally recognized for their academic achievements. The event will be at 6 p.m. March 10 at the SLS Las Vegas Congo Ballroom. Tickets can be purchased online at or at Lee’s Discount Liquor. Tickets are $70 in advance; $80 at the door.

Who are some of your major sponsors/partnerships and how involved are they in your efforts?

Our corporate sponsors are Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Lee’s Discount Liquor, MGM Resorts International, CDW, Caesars Entertainment, Bank of Nevada, NV Energy and UnitedHealthcare.

The sponsors play an integral role in our event. We would not be able to plan it without their support.

Give us a few tips for wine shoppers.

Attend wine tastings to learn about and experience wines that you have never tasted. Visit wine stores and ask the staff for recommendations based on the type of wine you like to drink. For example, I learned that a French white burgundy wine was comparable to an unoaked chardonnay.

What would you want to eat as your last meal, and why? What sort of wine would you pair with that meal?

My last meal would be grilled Coho Salmon, sauteed spinach and rice pilaf, because I would want to leave this world knowing that I tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is also my favorite dish. With it, I would enjoy a glass of Cloudy Bay New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

What other organizations or charitable endeavors are you involved in?

I serve on the board of the Innovations International Charter School, which serves an at-risk student population.

We partner with the Epicurean Charitable Foundation with a culinary scholarship award.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about the teaching and learning process, and finding ways to give back to the community. My grandmother always told me that “living is giving, and giving is living.” I have made it my personal mission to always pay it forward and share my knowledge with others who need a helping hand.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

Maintain your data and records, manage your resources, and network.

What’s the biggest issue facing Southern Nevada?

Greater financial support for education in both K-12 and higher education is needed. The Southern Nevada landscape has changed significantly. In all aspects of the job sector, people are being required to have college degrees and technical skills in computer software applications. We need to support the programs that are preparing individuals for the job market.

Whom do you admire?

Oprah Winfrey; I am amazed at the way that she continues to reinvent herself for personal and professional growth.