For nearly 20 years, the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress have declared October to be Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The 2022 theme “See Yourself in Cyber” is particularly appropriate for Cisco Networking Academy, as cybersecurity is a vital component of the learning and digital skills curriculum.

As Cisco Networking Academy celebrates 25 years of impact, we’re celebrating the people whose lives have been impacted — 17.5 million lives in 190 countries — as our students develop careers that are ready for a digitally-transformed future.

Educating learners who connect the world has been a learning journey of our own, as we’ve grown an unmatched ecosystem of public and private partnerships around the world. We do this with passion, purpose, and innovation by providing in-kind contributions in tools, training, and resources to support teaching and learning, as part of Cisco’s purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All.

In July 2022, Cisco EVP and Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer, Fran Katsoudas, represented Cisco at the White House Cyber Workforce and Education Summit in Washington, DC. As the U.S. faces an estimated 700,000 vacancies in cyber-enabled jobs, Fran announced that Cisco has committed to training an additional 200,000 students in the U.S. over the next three years.

A truly balanced partnership

Part of the challenge of filling this cybersecurity skills gap is attracting students to pursue education and careers in cybersecurity. And the Air Force Association’s (AFA) CyberPatriot Program is a fantastic way of doing just that.

The CyberPatriot Program was created to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other disciplines in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“CyberPatriot got its start back in 2008, when a congressional study came out that said American students were doing terribly in science and mathematics,” says Frank Zaborowski, Senior Director, CyberPatriot Operations at the Air Force Association. “The Air Force Association started dealing with the junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps because we had the Air Force affiliation. And then we took it out to public schools. And [since then], we’ve grown to well over 144,000 students in our alumni.”

Fun and focused competition

The National Youth Cyber Defense Competition is at the core of the initiative, with a series of online competitions in which teams of students, from grades six to 12, are put in the virtual position of IT professionals managing the network of a small company. The teams are given a set of virtual operating systems and are tasked with finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining critical services.

The competition makes STEM education fun and focused — students can see real-world implications and real-world career pathways through a fun, gamified, activity that gives them a taste of what a career in cybersecurity may look like. The top teams in the nation win all-expenses-paid trips to Maryland for the National Finals Competition, where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

Student looking at a table
Welcoming students to the AFA CyberPatriot National Finals Competition

Cindy DeCarlo, Director, Global Government and National Security at Cisco, says “the best way to get someone interested in CyberPatriot is to bring them to the CyberPatriot National Finals Competition. The diversity across the teams, the camaraderie within the teams — it’s extraordinary. It sets the bar for what industry is looking for. They’re not only looking for technical competency, but they’re also looking for the teamwork, they’re looking for leadership skills. And this program gives students the opportunity to practice all those things.”

“We’ve watched some of the students who have started their own companies, who are super successful in the industry today. There is just example after example of how CyberPatriot and the experience of CyberPatriot sets these students up for success in the future,” says Cindy.

Enjoyable volunteering

“CyberPatriot not only works to address the growing demand for new cybersecurity professionals, but also provides a way for the Public Sector teams to give back to their customers, via mentoring assistance to the student teams. This year, we are instituting scholarships for the Cisco Networking Academy Challenge winners, in the order of US$54,000 to back up that commitment to the program’s efforts.”

But Cisco goes further than awarding scholarships. Cisco has a CyberPatriot Academy within the Cisco Networking Academy, including an instructor course, training modules for coaches and mentors, quizzes, and activities using our powerful network simulation tool, Cisco Packet Tracer.

And through Cisco’s employee Time2Give volunteer program, more than 70 Cisco employees have volunteered as mentor and/or coach for the competing teams, as part of our Giving Back program. One shining example of Time2Give is Roy Vestal, a Cisco employee with passion and purpose, who helped establish the partnership between the organizations. Roy also volunteers as a CyberPatriot Coach.


You don’t have to be a cybersecurity expert to support a team in the CyberPatriot competition. The Team Coach is typically a teacher or adult team leader of a team-sponsoring school or youth organization. You don’t need any specific IT skills, as the AFA can provide volunteer Technical Mentors to help Coaches with online training or specific topics.

Frank relays the story of one of the competing teams whose Team Coach was a French teacher with no tech experience. Her students had reformatted all the hard drives in her French lab! With the help of a mentor, her team made it to the National Finals Competition.

Celebrating partnership and competition

Cybersecurity starts with the network, and it is a fundamental component of the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum. Our curriculum starts with entry-level direct-to-learner courses on Skills for All, through to Associate Level CyberOps, delivered through our Academies, such as high schools here in the U.S., community colleges, and universities. Our curriculum offers cybersecurity essentials, end-point security, and cloud security, to name just a few.

Congratulations to the AFA CyberPatriot Program entering its XV (15th) year of the competition in October 2022. We’re proud to be your partner.

Tune-in to our podcast to learn more about the CyberPatriot Program.

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Rebecca Chisolm

Regional Manager, North America

Cisco Networking Academy