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From world premier sailboat racing to wind surfing to flying kites in the park, young men and women in the Bay Area grow up using wind energy in creative and exciting ways. But since early January, teams of students have been challenged with an even bigger task: “Harnessing the Wind” to move water. These days, water is a scarce resource in California—the state spends 19 percent of its total energy consumption to move and process it.

This Saturday and Sunday, April 12th and 13th, teams of fifth through twelfth graders will compete to harness the power of the wind in The Tech Museum of Innovation’s 27th annual Tech Challenge – the culmination of months of hard work and real-world lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Students celebrate a successful design in last year’s Asteroid’s Rock challenge.

Students celebrate a successful design in last year’s Asteroid’s Rock challenge.

Now in its fourth year as presenting sponsor, Cisco is proud to work with programs like the Tech Challenge to help educate America’s students for tomorrow’s workforce. As President Obama outlined at the White House Science Fair last year, the importance of the country’s STEM education programs has never been more apparent. Today, technology companies employ six million people, but by 2018, the U.S. could face a job shortfall of 230,000 employees in STEM positions. As a member of The Tech Museum’s board, I’m proud of the initiative taken to offer students hands-on training for real, complex problems.

As part of Cisco’s commitment to STEM education, approximately 100 employees will be on site to assist with this weekend’s Tech Challenge, but I want to draw special attention to a few Cisco employees who have been working with these student teams since January to develop their solutions for this year’s challenge.

In her second year as a Tech Challenge mentor, Cisco Systems Engineer Ilene Rafii had the opportunity to work with three students from underserved San Jose communities that she trained last year (as well as a few new students). In last year’s

Cisco volunteer Ilene Rafii (far right) treats her young inventors to a latte after weeks of hard work.

Cisco volunteer Ilene Rafii (far right) treats her young inventors to a latte after weeks of hard work.

“Asteroids Rock” competition, Ilene’s students lacked the resources and time to create a device that would successfully launch eggs onto a platform without cracking. But in 2014, Ilene came prepared – she recruited several colleagues each willing to donate time each weekend to ensure students had enough coaching and support to “go deep” into the real world process of “ideation, prototyping, iterating, and analyzing their designs.” After several weeks of brainstorming and building in four hour sessions, her team feels prepared to wow the judges this Saturday.

For Software Engineer Jen Casella, the experience felt more personal as she discovered the world of networking as a high school student through Cisco’s Networking Academy. Jen enjoyed the opportunity to give back by working with a team of five students and “sharing in their excitement” as they worked through complex challenges as a team.

Jennifer Casella (far left) regularly joins Cisco colleagues in speaking to groups of girls -- future engineers and creators -- at local schools

Jennifer Casella (far left) regularly joins Cisco colleagues in speaking to groups of girls — future engineers and creators — at local schools

Jen says, “In real world scenarios, I would say 99 percent of the time in your career you are going to have to be a part of a group or team, and being able to work together with others and resolve conflict accordingly is crucial to success.”

Ilene said that her commitment to the Tech Challenge program stems from her hopes “to create a culture that welcomes more women and diversity,” and “to make engineering cool.” She believes that even in the technology epicenter of the world, “in ten miles in any direction there are communities that can’t even afford a decent internet connection.”

The work Cisco employees are doing with students throughout the Bay Area and the nation is indicative of our commitment to the President’s U.S. 2020 challenge to enlist one million mentors over the next six years to provide exciting opportunities beyond the classroom to students in STEM programs. As a Cisco executive, I’m excited about the opportunity to help train tomorrow’s workforce; but, as a mother, I’m even more thrilled to see the excitement of students as they discover the transformative potential of science, engineering and, most importantly, themselves.

Cisco volunteers serve as judges to evaluate the innovations of student teams and give feedback on the thought process documented in their design journals.

Cisco volunteers serve as judges to evaluate the innovations of student teams and give feedback on the thought process documented in their design journals.

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10 Comments.


  1. More volunteers like Ilene will make the silicon valley continue leading the tech world, and boost women in engineering at the same time.

       1 like

  2. My name is Jostein Aamodt. I featured in Skaperen(Bergen, Norway) some ten years ago or so. Now, what we need to do in the future is to create more tunnels. Frequent ones, not lenghty, to produce the most powerful and litter-free energy-harnesses. Where view can be sacrificed, ofcourse.
    Good luck in bettering the world, students. Good to see that the experts aren`t laughing anymore

       0 likes

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       0 likes

  4. I apologize for my “English”. But in Russia (I out) are groups of volunteers are extremely popular. Good luck in your business!

       0 likes

  5. It looks very nice great congratulations Students in San Jose

       0 likes

  6. I apologize for my “English”

       0 likes

  7. When greeting a situation can not be definitely

       0 likes

  8. It looks very nice great congratulations Students in San Jose
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       0 likes

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       0 likes

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