This post was written by Sarah Hurd, Content Strategist for Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility marketing team.

It takes a special team of people to pull off Cisco Live US (CLUS) each year. As Cisco’s largest customer Cisco Live US attracts 28,000 of the industry’s top talent looking to propel their professional growth through in-person events, live broadcasts, and 7000 on-demand trainings centered around Cisco products, solutions, and services. It also attracts an additional 370,000 online attendees from around the world, creating a complex web of internet connections.

Given the sheer volume of people attending and the different types of trainings and sessions offered, the pressure is high to make sure the event’s network runs seamlessly. The team responsible for running Cisco Live’s infrastructure are Cisco IT super stars—the Network Operation Center (NOC) team. Together, they work tirelessly for a week to create a flawless customer experience through uninterrupted wireless network connectivity.

The NOC team also relies on a handpicked group of hardworking Cisco Networking Academy students who make up the event’s annual Dream Team. Nominated by instructors from Networking Academy colleges and universities for their demonstrated technical skills, activities outside the classroom, and geographic diversity±and then selected by a Cisco panel—this year’s Dream Team is comprised of 10 students from a wide range of backgrounds across North America, from Hawaii and Texas to Minnesota and Canada.

All week long, the Dream Team will work alongside Cisco NOC engineers, gaining valuable real-world experience that often has led to employment opportunities at Cisco or with one of our 750 partners.

This year’s Dream Team is sponsored by CDW, who has a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with the Networking Academy. CDW’s Associate Consulting Engineer Program is a partner of Cisco’s Talent Bridge, a Networking Academy program that connects students with career resources and connections to employers. CDW has found great success in hiring Networking Academy graduates through the Talent Bridge and, in fact, this past spring, almost 50% of their associate hires were Networking Academy students.

Four of this year’s Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team members (Kristen, Niran, Chase, and Salam).

I had the pleasure of interviewing four of this year’s US Cisco Live Dream Team members. Their passion and dedication is contagious.

Niran Weerasinghe

As the youngest Dream Team member and first-year student at Durham College in Ontario, Canada, Niran didn’t expect to be selected for the Dream Team. He’s someone who has always excelled at computers, but didn’t discover a real passion for IT until he began taking Networking Academy courses.

Niran couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Dream Team. “It’s crazy; I can’t wait to see what the top people in the field are doing and how they work,” he says. “It will motivate me a lot.” It’s clear, however, that Niran doesn’t lack for motivation. He was the sole IT admin at Pickering Auto Lab last summer and, outside of class, he manages the kitchen of his local Popeye’s restaurant. Additionally, once he returns from Cisco Live, Niran’s goal is to set up a lab at home so he can further develop his skills.

Kristen Hudson

If you would have asked Kristen a year and half ago where she saw her career going, the answer would have been ‘nowhere.’ After 12 years in retail, Kristen was burned out and didn’t see an opportunity for advancement. It wasn’t until her stepdad talked her into taking networking classes did her life begin to change.

Fast forward to today: Kristen graduated with a 4.0 from South Louisiana Community College, where she also led the school’s IT club and recently landed a job as an IT support technician with IntegraCom Inc. When asked what it felt like to be part of the Dream Team, Kristen says: “It is kind of surreal. I’m super excited to be among my peers—there is so much we can learn from each other. I also see it as an opportunity to network.”

Salam Mashal

Salam may be new to the Networking Academy, but her interest in IT started years ago when her family got their first desktop computer. “I always knew I was interested in computers, but I didn’t know what areas I was interested in,” she says. “I started with programming and then discovered this year while at California Polytechnic University that I like to be more hands-on, building networks.”

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Salam credits her outgoing, can-do personality to her work at a local tapas restaurant. And she knows the skills she has gained both at the Networking Academy and on the job will benefit her while at Cisco Live. “I see it as a really good opportunity to learn from people who are doing this for a living. I’m preparing a lot,” she says.

Chase Thorpe

When I asked Chase what he likes most about being part of the Cisco Networking Academy, he quickly said, “The thrill of networking. It’s all about the problem solving.” Chase is the first Ball State University student to be part of the Dream Team and is excited about the opportunity to contribute to the success of Cisco Live. “I want to learn as much as possible and am looking forward to being part of a team who wants to work on something together for the best outcome,” he says.

Like the rest of his Dream Team colleagues, Chase is no stranger to hard work. He is currently in an accelerated graduate program for Information and Communication Science, has earned his CCNA, and has worked in his school’s IT department for five years. He also plans to take his CCNP certification test while at Cisco Live.

To learn more about the Dream Team, visit the Dream Team page on the Cisco Networking Academy website.