Discovering Cultural Connections

It is amazing when you break free from your “comfort” zone and take a moment to talk with someone from a different culture or nation. This is an opportunity to learn more about another person’s life and how they view the world. It is during these conversations that you can discover the beauty of their culture and how it relates to your own. This is why Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) is more than just an organization. We are also a global community connecting people from different cultures and backgrounds to share ideas and join hands in making this a better world. 

This past March was a time that UDS experienced many cultural connections. As we had shared in an early post, we connected youth in Liberia to their peers in Minnesota via Google Hangout at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum on March 7.  That same day our executive director–Heather Cannon-Winkelman–was invited to co-present at the Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) Multicultural Student Leadership Association (MSLA) Event about U.S. and Liberia Relations. 

Event Flyer

Plus in conjunction with the MSLA event, we did a 9-day Facebook promotion from March 1 to 9 called Uniting Distant Stars Jeopardy. This promo provided one question per day about the History, Geography, Famous People, and other fun facts showing the relationship between the U.S and Liberia (and West Africa). Whoever answered the most questions right, would be featured in our blog. So this post will conclude with some background of our winner–Joyce Mallery–and her thoughts about some questions we asked her.  

MSLA Leadership Team. Joyce is the third from the left with Branko third from the right.

First here is a quick highlight of the March 7 event at the DCTC. Heather had the honor of co-presenting with Branko Saah Tambah, a Liberian student and current MSLA President. Branko and Heather shared their knowledge, experience, research and photos of the “Complex Historical Relationship: Liberia and the United States” (click here to view their presentation). Throughout their presentation they interwove “Test Your Knowledge” questions to see what their audience knew about what links these two nations together. The presentation opened their eyes to a part of U.S. history that is often not taught within schools.  The students afterwards shared their feedback on the information they gained from this intriguing presentation about the historical ties between Liberia and the U.S.

Pictured are MSLA members along with Heather and Branko who are holding Certificates of Appreciation.

Now to our Uniting Distant Stars Jeopardy winner Joyce Mallery, who is another a DCTC student and MSLA member. Joyce has also known Heather from when they worked together for many years at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minnesota. When Joyce learned that Heather had returned from her second year living in Liberia in 2010, she invited her to present at their Multicultural event that spring. Joyce was first in the line-up of presenters where she shared her discovery of her Native American heritage and her quest to find her tribal roots. 


Joyce was the one that connected Branko with Heather, who met for the first time last year. She again played an active role in this year’s MSLA event with the planning some of the logistics and designing Branko and Heather’s certificates. It was through her discussions with Branko that she became more interested in the Liberian culture and wanted to learn more. This why she was very eager to play our Jeopardy game and answered 8 out of the 9 questions right.

In getting to know Joyce better we asked her to share something about her educational background along with her MSLA involvement. 


Over the past five years, I have been a full-time college student at DCTC working on several degrees and certificates, and participating in several clubs on campus while working full-time at Mystic Lake. In May 2012, I graduated with honors and earned three AAS Degrees in Graphic Design Technology, Multimedia/Web Design, and Electronic Publishing. After graduating I made the decision to start my own business, but still had a hunger to learn. So, I chose to remain a student at DCTC and for the second and final time time, I will be graduating this May with honors and earning a AAS in Social Media Marketing Specialist along with certificates in Entrepreneurship, Small Business Management, Digital Imaging and Social Media Marketing Specialist. 
While at DCTC, I have been involved in several student clubs. One of my favorite ones has been the MSLA. I was initially drawn to this club, because of my curiosity and the desire to learn more about other cultures. As a seasoned employee at Mystic Lake Casino, I had the opportunity to work with a very culturally diverse population and found that my MSLA membership helped me to better communicate with my fellow team members. This is why I have been actively involved with this diverse student group for over four years along with serving as the President, Vice President and Secretary. I have also played a strategic role in planning our annual celebrations as well as as many different events throughout the school year including the recent Liberian/American Connection event. 

Very impressive Joyce! From reading her background, she has clearly demonstrated the importance of education both in her academia and everyday life. She also represents someone who discovered her Star potential and what it takes to meet and exceed her own goals. Through Joyce’s example, it is reminder to everyone that it is never too late to realize one’s dream. We would like to extend our Congratulations to Joyce for all her outstanding accomplishments at DCTC!

Next, we wanted to gain some insight from Joyce by asking her seven questions as follows:

1) What does it mean to be a global citizen; how do you see yourself in this role and why?

To me, being a global citizen means identifying with being a part of an emerging world community. I see myself as wanting to learn and being involved in helping to build a “beloved global community.” By sharing my culture while learning about others, we can open our minds on what we have discovered about each person we interact with. This knowledge can then be passed on to the people in our own networks.

2) What is your cultural background and how does this help you relate with your MSLA team and our global community?

My cultural background began with my earliest memories of being taken to the reservation to visit with the elders. Although I do not know of my tribal origin, I do know I have Native American decent in my family heritage. I have always wanted to know more and have sought out learning about the Native American ways. For example, the ceramics that I have created and painted have been of eagles, bears and wolves that came to me from my heart and dreams instead of pictures. My knowledge of Native American beliefs and crafts have helped me relate with others in my MSLA team; as our current Vice President is also Native American. By being a member of this group, we are equally curious of each others backgrounds and quite comfortable with asking questions to gain more knowledge of each one’s culture. It has also allowed me to feel that I am part of the global community and want to seek more and more information as I expand my network.

3) As a MSLA member, how does one’s leadership skills improve by learning about other cultures and how has it enhanced yours? 

My leadership skills have improved greatly by being immersed with other cultures, because I’m stronger and more confident. Before I was shy and afraid to ask other people about their cultures. By taking the time to learn and understand another person’s background, I have found that there are similarities within my culture and theirs. This has helped me better connect with my fellow members and also earn their respect as a leader, because I acknowledge their unique experience and how it better enhances our community.

4) In playing the jeopardy game about the historical connections between Liberia and the U.S., what was the most profound thing you learned and why? 

I would have to say it was the question from day 6: “What wealthy mariner from Massachusetts, who was half Wampanoag Native American and half African American (decedent from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana), was the first to transport freed and free-born African Americans to West Africa (landed at Sierra Leone)?” Although the search was difficult, I finally did find the answer which was Paul Cuffee (or Cuffe). This question made me discover several things that I had no idea from our history. During this research, I found myself reading various articles that increased my knowledge of what happened and a bit of history about the experiences of free-born African Americans.

5) As a student who is realizing your Star potential and pursuing your dreams, what advice would you give young people who are facing various obstacles and adversaries in continuing their education or obtaining a job? 

My advice would be to never be afraid to learn and keep doing it! If you face an obstacle, never give up! With a lot of thought, hard work, and help from others, these challenges can be overcome and you will be able to advance forward with much more knowledge and confidence than you when you were first confronted with them. Never be afraid to ask for help, because it will always be there! Sometimes it is not there right away, but help will be eventually come to you. This holds true with your education and job search. Also what you learn along the way can be applied in discovering a solution to your problem. Remember to hold your head high and walk with confidence always! Again have faith and never give up!

6) In following and advocating for Uniting Distant Stars, what do you think is its greatest strength and why? 

The greatest strength I have seen so far has been the leadership and the willingness of the people involved to push forward the various programs. They do everything possible to ensure the young students at Russ Wood will have the best chance of getting an education and strengthen their knowledge.  This will allow these students someday to go forward with their own dreams and share what they have learned with others.

7) As you look to the future, what would you like to do to make a difference in the lives of others? 

As I look towards my future, I would like to help others by passing on my knowledge, sharing my skills, volunteering my time and talent, and giving financial support when I can. I am who I am today, because of what others have done for me by supporting, encouraging and guiding me throughout my life. So, that is why I can’t think of a better thing to do than to pay it forward. 

Thank you Joyce for your sharing your thoughts with us today! We are grateful for your support and increasing involvement with Uniting Distant Stars!  

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