How Cisco Networking Academy empowers students at Standing Rock Reservation


“The instructor trainer was just incredible, and he shared all of the resources and material that I needed to successfully pass the certification exam and to teach Cisco Networking Academy courses.”


Gabriella Arellano was raised in Orange County, California. After attaining a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in marketing she embarked on a marketing career in Los Angeles, consulting for some of the largest companies in the United States.

But when she chose to move to North Dakota her path in life changed drastically. Not only was it a change of scenery; it helped her find a new purpose in life. “It's just interesting where life takes you,” she says. 

Since moving to North Dakota, she has earned a master’s degree in education, curriculum, assessment, and instruction; started teaching at a high school; achieved a doctorate in educational leadership; qualified as a Cisco Networking Academy instructor; and landed a job as Cybersecurity Faculty and Continuing Education Coordinator at Sitting Bull College.  

“I like to share that story with my students,” she says. “Follow your soul wherever it takes you. It brought me here. It was the best decision I ever made, and I absolutely love it.”

Education beckons

Following a lifelong desire to get into education, Gabriella enrolled to study for her master’s degree at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. “I was accepted into a few graduate schools in California,” she says. “But I wanted to go to school here so I could meet people.”

“I was offered a teaching position on Standing Rock Reservation, where I taught business, technology, and mathematics,” says Gabriella. “I had never been to Standing Rock. I learned a lot about the community and the culture. It's very different from the schools I attended in larger cities in California.”

“It was just so different from what I knew, just aside from the fact that North Dakota is very different from California,” she says. “I grew up in a city. North Dakota is definitely a rural community. It was a lot to take in when I first moved to North Dakota.”

Tech certifications

“I was going to take the summer off school, but that didn't happen,” she jokes about taking courses over the Summer to get certified for college-level instruction. “I passed all of the different certificates that I needed. And received my credential in information technology from the state of North Dakota.”

It helped that Gabriella already had an aptitude for technology. 

“I’ve always been really tech savvy,” she says. “Even prior to this, I’d always been the go-to person to fix things for people, but it was never formal. So it was it was an easy transition because I've always really enjoyed technology.”

The transition also involved qualifying as a Cisco Networking Academy instructor, and the experience was a positive one. 

“The instructor trainer was just incredible, and he shared all of the resources and material that I needed to successfully pass the certification exam and to teach Cisco Networking Academy courses,” she enthuses. “It was just such a life saver to be able to transition and teach all these courses. I'm amazed by the level of support that Cisco has provided to me as an instructor.”

That positive experience with Cisco Networking Academy is something that Gabriella enjoys sharing with her students. “Students are very engaged,” she says. “For their midterms, for their finals, even the assignments, the packet tracer assignments that they do…they’re always emailing me: ‘Hey, did you see how I did here?’ Students get very engaged with the material, which is very nice.”

Expanding the offering

With around 300 undergraduate- and post-graduates, Sitting Bull Community College was quite a change from California for Gabriella too. “I like to describe our campus and our school as a big family,” says Gabriella. “The universities that I attended in California, you might be sitting in a class with 300 other students, and you didn't really have that one-on-one with your faculty members. Here you get to know people really well. It's really nice.”

While the size of the college has advantages, there are challenges too. Finding cybersecurity and information technology faculty can be hard, making it difficult to offer a variety of courses and resources to students.

For this reason, Sitting Bull College partnered with Turtle Mountain Community College and Stone Child Community College to develop a consortium to offer cybersecurity courses in rural tribal colleges in two different states. 

It is a shared-resources model that helps provide students a broader range of opportunities. 

“We're looking to expand,” says Gabriella. “I know other schools are interested in what we have accomplished. So we're looking at different strategies on how to expand this concept.”

“It's really important for people—especially people who care about education—to know that there are rural community strategies to increase the access to opportunities for students. Education is evolving and there is always more to do. It has been inspiring to work with Cisco’s technical leaders and business development team who have gone above and beyond to help us provide the best education to our students. It has impacted and changed many lives.”



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