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Cisco Working with Sweetwater MS to Build Future

Tech company Cisco is helping to spark kids' interest in science and information technology.

A group of about 60 middle school students gathered Thursday morning at library to hear professionals from Cisco's Sugarloaf Parkway offices talk about careers in information technology. At first, many of them sat slumped in their chairs, disinterested in what the adults were telling them. But then, the group from Cisco tells the students how cell phones, video games, social media and even computer-animated movies require the use and knowledge of information technology. After hearing this, the students began to perk up and lean in closer to hear more about this ever-growing field.

Cisco came to the campus to kick of Program Escuela. The IT company is teaming up with Sweetwater to mentor the children and hopefully develop future IT specialists. The program highlights the importance of staying in school and going on to college.

"We saw that this was a school in need of mentors. A school that had an interest in IT," said Michael Johnson, Human Resources Manager at Cisco. "Looking at their objectives of wanting to create a more science and technology learning environment and we wanted to do the same thing. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 262,000 information technology jobs in the United States in 2006. In 2016, it’s estimated that number will jump to 402,000 while the number of people with actual IT skills will be only about 281,000. After sharing these numbers with the sixth through eighth graders, Johnson tells them basically, by the time they graduate college, if they want a job in IT, they can get it.

Sixth grader Anthony Goodman may be one of those future IT Professionals. Goodman says his father works long hours and he’s often the man of the house and has to fix things, like the computer, for the family. “When it was slow, which our computer shouldn’t be slow, I reconnected it and used a new cord for the computer to hook it up and then it worked fast.” said Goodman. The boy said his father lauded his efforts and he’s since tinkered more and more with technology.

Cisco employees said children already have the tools to develop a strong foundation in IT. “They’re already out on the internet. Just exploring all the information out there,” said Johnson. “So they’re at the doorstep every day. They have an interest in pursuing their interests and going beyond the classroom because the teachers can only do so much.”

Jerry Tirado is an Art Director at Cisco. He says he was more interested in sports than technology when he was the same age as the children participating in Program Escuela. He hopes through this program, he can inspire these kids to learn more about IT. “Cisco has a great program giving back to the community and getting kids excited about technology,” said Tirado. “It’s just investing in our future.” 

This partnership will continue with mentors from Cisco returning to Sweetwater in on February 10th and 24th. “They’re going to create their future city. What technology they will use to help them live, play, learn and work,” said Sweetwater’s Library Media & Technology Specialist Scott Gurdak, referencing Cisco’s slogan. “It’s going to turn into very much a hands-on, role-playing type of transition.”

Gurdak added how thankful he is for Cisco’s decision to work with the school. “It is truly a blessing to be able to see the motivation and inspiration that these students were able to see. The excitement!” He adds as an educator, the joy he feels seeing students get excited about learning.

Goodman says he is looking forward to the return of Johnson, Tirado and the rest of the Cisco team. He stayed after the assembly ended to ask more technology related questions.

While Goodman learned a lot from the mentors, the 12-year-old also has some advice to offer his peers who, like himself, want to pursue a career in IT. “If they can put their mind to it, they can do whatever they want to.” Goodman added, “have some goals and some big dreams, because if you don’t have big dreams, you will never know if big dreams can come true.”

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