Gabriella Arellano, an educator at Sitting Bull College
Gabriella Arellano, the Information Technology Specialist and Continuing Education Coordinator at Sitting Bull College

Every year at our annual Cisco Live customer event, attendees can participate in a hands-on social impact activity that benefits the local community. This wasn’t possible when Cisco Live went virtual in 2020, but we were still able to make an impact by donating 1,000 pi-top laptop kits to Cisco Networking Academy partners across the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The donation was made to help students more easily transition to a virtual classroom and give users the tools they need to connect with others.

Networking Academy worked with a partner, the USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, to distribute the pi-tops in the United States. Specifically, this office works with the 1890 Historically Black Land Grant Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the 1994 Tribal Land Grant Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to support capacity building initiatives that bolster education and career opportunities for students and faculty and help develop the next generation of agricultural professionals.

“These resources will reach students in underserved and under-resourced communities, giving them access to curriculum and technology to learn,” said Clydene Stangvik, Cisco Networking Academy Manager for the Midwest.

Torey Powell, who served as the Agricultural Youth Organization Coordinator at the USDA at the time of distribution shared, “Helping young people better understand the connection between STEM, IT, and Agriculture is part of our larger commitment to developing the next generation of agriculture.”

Sitting Bull College is a Tribal College located on the Standing Rock Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Over 90 percent of students served by Sitting Bull College are Native American. The college is located in a geographically isolated area with high poverty and limited access to educational resources. According to testimony in Congress in 2019 by Ira Taken Alive, Vice-Chairman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, over 40 percent of Native-American families on the Reservation live in poverty – more than triple the average US poverty rate.

Before the COVID 19 pandemic, many students at Sitting Bull College borrowed laptops from the school. The USDA selected Sitting Bull College to receive 25 of the pi-top laptop kits that were donated by Cisco.

Pi-tops introduce users to physical computing, with the added bonus of learning how to make the laptop. It is a great way to learn how to code and create devices and systems. This gave students at Sitting Bull College an opportunity to assemble laptops, gain new IT skills, and access new technology. We sat down with Gabriella Arellano, the Information Technology Specialist and Continuing Education Coordinator at Sitting Bull College to learn more.

Learning new skills and gaining confidence

Tribal College student with a laptop
Sitting Bull College student, Donnette Medicine Horse, with her pi-top laptop

In the fall 2020 semester, Sitting Bull College IT students, also Geek Oyate Club members, assembled the pi-top laptops. The Geek Oyate club promotes interest in becoming full-time information technology students. The Pi-tops were used to encourage interest and explore different realms of technology further.

In November, Gabriella hosted an online workshop for Geek Oyate students to assemble the laptops virtually together. Since Sitting Bull College classes were completely online due to the pandemic, each student picked up a pi-top laptop and took it home to begin work on the assembly. Students helped each other online, via video conferencing, and created functioning laptops from home. Since many of students in the Geek Oyate Club are freshmen who were new to IT, putting together a laptop was a totally new experience for many of them.

Gabriella noticed that putting the pi-tops together gave the students confidence. “The idea of, ‘oh my gosh, I can learn how to assemble a laptop’ was so intriguing to them. And, I think when they actually did it, you could see how much it increased their confidence.”

A competition to boost engagement

Gabriella also hosted a competition that gave students two opportunities to win one of the donated pi-top laptops after they were assembled.

The first was a mini competition amongst the Geek Oyate Club members, enticing students to create a robot or functioning light with the tools given to them in the pi-top kit. Two Geek Oyate students successfully completed the task, and each won one of the donated pi-top laptops. One of the students was a sophomore, but she was new to IT. Both students will teach other club members how they created the light and the robot next semester.

Donnette Medicine Horse is a Sitting Bull College student who participated in the workshop and won a pi-top laptop after creating a functioning light. She shared, “My experience assembling this pi-top introduced me to the world [of] coding and engineering creativity, which really gave me an interest in IT. I really enjoyed the different projects in the inventor’s kit and it sparked an interest in graphic design.”

Elena Rodriguez is a freshman at Sitting Bull college who also participated in the workshop and created a robot. She shared, “When the opportunity to build a pi-top was first brought to my attention, I was very intimidated. I was pleased to find out how easy it was to assemble and the creativity it encourages when building your own robot.” Below, you can see Elena with her pi-top laptop and the robot that she created:

A student shows off her pi-top laptop and robot she created
Click on the image to see Elena’s robot in action!

Three students who entered the competition also got laptops for attending all of the IT workshops throughout the semester. Those students had been borrowing laptops from the college and were so grateful to have their own laptops to keep. Gabriella shared, “One student began to cry because she could not afford a laptop of her own.” Having the laptops changed things for the students because it helped them to learn how to code. The rest of the students returned the pi-tops and will be working with them again next semester.

Gabriella shared, “I teach most of the IT workshops here, so most of these students were enrolled in my classes, and you could see a tremendous difference in attendance and engagement. Students were participating in group discussions, which was awesome.”

A new interest leads to new opportunities

Next semester, the Geek Oyate students will enter more inventor’s competitions and are excited to share these opportunities with new IT students joining the program.

Gabriella added, “Thank you again for granting us this wonderful opportunity. We will continue to utilize these laptops to enhance our student’s educational experiences!”

To learn more about Cisco Networking Academy, please visit netacad.com. And please visit our Cisco Live 2021 Social Impact page to learn more about how we are reaching our goal to positively impact one billion people by 2025.


Stacey Faucett

Manager, Content Creation

Chief Sustainability Office