When an opportunity in STEM education presents itself, the unknown can be a barrier or a game changer. But it all depends on how you look at it. In this case, the unknown was unavoidable and it was the very thing one school needed to embrace. Here is how one teacher turned the unknown into a game changer for her school.

An invitation to change the game

Deborah Kula was wrapping up a busy academic year as a math teacher, chair of the math department, and robotics team coach at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu, HI. An invitation popped into her inbox about an open house to discuss the upcoming CyberPatriot student competition.

“I remember thinking how well this competition could fit with our school’s mission,” Deborah says. “Little did I know how the competition—and my introduction to the Cisco Networking Academy program—would affect our students, our school curriculum, and my professional life.”

STEM Cyberpatriot Cisco Networking Academy

New opportunities in STEM

Instead of trying to become an expert in cybersecurity overnight, Deborah realized that she could play a much more valuable role: finding outside resources to help support her students. “Even though I have a background in programming, I didn’t have much exposure to cybersecurity. I knew that participating in the CyberPatriot competition would involve a steep learning curve for me. The students definitely outpaced me in learning. They would say, ‘Don’t worry, Mrs. Kula, we’ve got it covered!’”

Empowering STEM through the Cisco Networking Academy

When Deborah brought the courses to the attention of the Sacred Hearts administration, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “We recognize that we need to keep developing new learning opportunities for our students. Cisco Networking Academy courses will add so much to our STEM programs. Any educator who champions STEM knows how important it is to keep growing and strengthening.”

Reflecting on how she has been affected personally, Deborah says, “I’ve expanded my professional contacts in the community far beyond what I ever expected. I love the fact that I can keep growing and learning as a teacher. I love the fact that I can stay where I am and still be exploring new areas of study after 30-plus years in academics.”

Read more of the story

From CyberPatriot Coach to NetAcad Champion: How an all-girls school in Hawaii is strengthened by an inspired STEM instructor

Additional resource

Infographic: The Cisco Networking Academy


Renee Patton

Former Global Director of Education and Healthcare

Global Industry Solutions Group