California Educational Data Processing Association
DataBus - Vol. 38, No. 3
April-May, 1998
Cisco Network Academies -- A Solution with Purpose

Curriculum: Web-based technology training program offers schools a turnkey solution.

Sue Mangiapane, Cisco Systems, Inc.

Note: The following is an excerpt from the February 27, 1998, Senate Subcommittee Hearing, Los Angeles, California.

To quote a recent study released by the Department of Commerce, "Just a few years ago, Java was coffee, C was a passing grade, and web masters had eight legs." As we all know, information technology is rapidly changing the way we live, work, play, and learn. The economy of the 21st century will be an information-based economy -- the question is, are we ready?

As we approach the millenium, our schools face serious challenges in educating the workforce of tomorrow. Although funding to purchase the tools of the information economy is improving, schools must also address the lack of time and resources to maintain this equipment and the lack of expertise to teach these concepts to their students.

Cisco believes that most of our schools are behind the curve on preparing the future workforce of this country to support its emerging technology infrastructure. As evidence of this, an Information Technology Association of America report released in January of 1998 states that the job deficit for information technology workers in this country stands at 346,000, or approximately 10% of the total number of positions available. Virginia Tech President Paul E. Torgersen, commenting on these findings, said "The future economic competitiveness of the nation is dependent on maintaining a qualified flow of information technology workers. We must look to creative partnerships among industry, associations, education, and government to help close the worker shortage gap."

Cisco is proud to announce one such partnership. In October of 1997, Cisco launched a new program called Cisco Networking Academies. This program, in the works for almost four years, educates and certifies high school and college students to design, build, and maintain computer networks and represents a partnership between Cisco and schools, government, and industry.

The Cisco Networking Academies program is currently operational in over 150 schools in 16 states. We expect to be established in almost 1,000 schools in virtually all 50 states by this Fall. In Los Angeles county alone, over 150 more academies will begin operation during the '98 - '99 academic year.

Our program attempts to provide a turnkey solution to schools. We not only offer a four-semester, multimedia, web-based curriculum that will continually evolve to include new concepts, but also a complete suite of lab equipment on which students can practice their skills, teacher training, support for the curriculum and the equipment, a marketable certificate provided to students who can demonstrate competence after completing the curriculum, and a web-based virtual community where academies can share insights on all aspects of the program, including its strengths and weaknesses.

The program was designed to avoid the mistakes we and other companies have made in the past. Specifically, Cisco Networking Academies does not simply drop technology into the classroom, nor does it stop at training teachers to use networking equipment. Instead, we intend to provide virtually everything a school needs to effectively and economically teach students how to build and operate networks. Students graduating from this program will be strong network administrators, designers, and troubleshooters because they will have substantial experience doing these jobs on real networks.

The curriculum was given a real test in April 1997, when Cisco took some of the students from Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, the program's pilot high school in an impoverished area of San Francisco, and brought them to the San Jose Convention Center. Here, in less than a day, these students designed, installed, and configured a 70-node trade show network for the California Community College Foundation (CCCF). This network, using the latest technologies, connected all trade show booths and conference rooms. The network operated flawlessly throughout the three days of the trade show. Amazingly, at that point, the students who installed the network had not yet completed even half of the four semester curriculum. The President of the CCCF, David Springett, said "Vendors, presenters, and the Foundation found it to be an invaluable service. Cisco's partnership with the high school students demonstrated how private industry's active involvement in education can advance students' skills and future prospects."

All good partnerships must benefit each partner. Specifically, the Cisco Networking Academies program provides substantial return for students, teachers, schools, government, and industry.

Students enjoy a fun-to-use curriculum that provides job skills leading to gainful employment in IT jobs. Student classroom time is divided between using the multimedia curriculum with its animations, pictures, examples, and exercises and actually configuring and operating real network equipment in the lab. While the students are learning the skills essential to network administration, they are building reading, writing, and math skills through the required projects and other assignments.

Teachers get motivated students and knowledge critical to our new information economy. One teacher commented that "Energy level by these students is so high I cannot find words to describe the feelings." Another said "Monday, we had to tell (the students) to leave at 5PM!"

Schools get a relevant new curriculum and, perhaps more importantly, people to help maintain their computer networks. Students, under proper supervision, are encouraged to learn about and help maintain the networks of not only their own school, but also schools elsewhere in the area.

The government has shown strong interest in the program because it supports "technology in the classroom" and "school-to-career" initiatives. Linda Roberts, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, says that "the Networking Academies program is in tune with the President's initiatives on educational technology and in the best spirit of public-private partnership."

Finally, industry is excited about the opportunity to hire the certified graduates from the Networking Academies program. Cisco will do what it can to bring together hiring managers and program graduates, although we will also take care to ensure that we are not a bottleneck in this enormous endeavor. Cisco is proud of the Networking Academies program and pleased that it has attracted the Government's attention. However, we would like to emphasize the importance of more of these programs be implemented, perhaps using this program as a model. Our program alone will not be enough. Most estimates project that the high-tech worker problem will get worse before it gets better. Already, the ITAA study shows that 50% of the IT company executives cited lack of skilled/trained workers as "the most significant barrier" to their companies' growth during the next year - a problem viewed as significantly greater than economic conditions, profitability, lack of capital investment, taxes, or regulation. Through programs such as Cisco Networking Academies, we can address a number of problems at once.

One of our most important success stories emphasizes the impact of the program on its most important stakeholders - our children. In a recent interview with Fox TV, a student at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, a school where 70% of the students live under the poverty level, commented that, were it not for this program, he would likely be in jail. Prior to entering the program, he had failed every subject because, as he put it, school was "boring." Now, looking ahead at his prospects, he says "I think I have a future."

Sue Mangiapane is Account Manager for Cisco Systems, Inc. She can be reached by telephone at (714) 789-5006, by FAX at (714) 789-5005, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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