Before I discovered electrical engineering, I wanted to be a teacher. I have always loved learning, so naturally I want to help others learn. For me, the most exciting part is the first time I have a light-bulb moment and real understanding of a concept begins. Consequently, seeing that same initial wave of comprehension wash over kids drives me to stay involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education year-round.
Luckily, Cisco is great about giving us the ability to combine our passions with our work life, and I have opportunity to serve as both a security researcher and an educator while working with some amazing people along the way!
How? Recently, I volunteered with a few of Cisco’s Employee Resource Organizations (EROs), cross-functional employee groups. It’s important to note that any employee is welcome to join any ERO as an ally to show support for one another. These EROs have directly helped me turn colleagues into friends and touch more communities than I ever thought possible. Thanks to the many hours required to develop STEM workshops, I’ve built close network of colleagues across the company who are also dedicated to diversity, technology, and education. But time really flies when you’re having fun!
As part of Conexión, the Latino employee community, I assisted with Program Escuela which aims to inspire youth to seek higher education and careers in technology. Here in Austin, Cisco employees connected with 25 elementary school students who worked in groups to design and present the classroom of the future. It was both exciting and impressive to view the future through these 4th and 5th grade minds as we judged their presentations. The students dreamt of robots that served custom lunches in the cafeteria, grammar-checking pens, and Internet-enabled trackers for their own safety. I’m proud to say that I was not the harshest judge on the panel! After we selected the strongest presentations, we invited the students to exchange ideas with their Program Escuela peers in Richardson, Texas via TelePresence.
The Austin Connected Women chapter stays busy with several annual traditions each year. We are a recurring sponsor of Girlstart’s Girls in STEM Conference, a 1-day conference designed to increase middle school girls’ interest and engagement in STEM fields. Our group of techies designed an electronic wearables workshop to make circuits fun and less intimidating for middle school girls. With our help, 60 students programmed a small microcontroller and LED circuit then sewed it to a bandana using conductive thread. Each girl took home her customized LED bandana to wear as a headband, scarf, or even bracelet.
School was in recess by June, but Connected Women members Alicia Valerio, Sadaf Syed, Ellie Daw, and myself had not run out of steam yet. We had so much fun at GenCyber summer camp last year, we decided to return to the California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) campus, but this time to teach! Dr. Tony Coulson and CSUSB expanded the all-girls cybersecurity camp to two weeks, with 200 middle school participants the first week and 50 high school participants the second.
Alicia, Sadaf, and myself took turns leading our Pitchin’ Packets game until all 200 middle school girls had the chance to play. The game uses beanbags, buckets, and students to represent the components of a network such as Internet traffic, routers, and endpoints. Although the game play seemed chaotic for the adults and fun for the kids, the girls actually gained an understanding of complex cybersecurity concepts. Most importantly, we demonstrated how any router between the endpoints could read and/or make a copy of the data it passed through. This really drove home the critical lesson that nothing is truly private on the Internet, which we could see really surprised some of the younger generation. Ellie continued our mission the following week, mentoring the 50 high school girls and providing them with an introduction to cryptography.
35 Cisco volunteer peers. 3 STEM educational outreach events. 2 EROs. Nearly 300 students reached. Countless hours of fun and laughs. I’ve had a blast collaborating with my fellow Cisconians on all these STEM events, and the year is only half over!
The month of September Cisco is celebrating Global Service Month! How are YOU giving back? Tell us in the comments below!
Want to join a company that gives back? We’re hiring!