For many people, Super Bowl Sunday represents a chance to hang out with friends and family, go all-out on gameday snacks, debate the best and worst commercials, tune in for the halftime show, and maybe watch some of the actual football game itself. But for a group of six lucky Cisco Networking Academy students, Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona represented much, much more.
For years, Cisco’s Networking Academy Dream Team program has provided promising, aspiring IT professionals with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to gain real, hands-on experience at some of the largest events in the world. These opportunities have allowed hand-selected individuals to develop their skills beyond a classroom setting at large-scale events such as Cisco Live!, Global Citizen Festival, and The Open Championship.
This season, as an Official Partner of the NFL, Cisco teamed up with the league to create new opportunities for Networking Academy students, with a Dream Team on-site at NFL Kickoff at SoFi Stadium in September, and bespoke networking events at MetLife Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Levi’s Stadium and Art McNally Gameday Central, the NFL’s video replay center in New York City throughout the season. But this past weekend represented the opportunity to experience the largest sporting event in the United States first-hand at Super Bowl LVII, and for six individuals, it was a week that will not soon be forgotten.
“It is amazing to see these professionals pursuing their passion for technology and using the Dream Team experience to impact real-life, game day operations at Super Bowl LVII,” said Aaron Amendolia, NFL Deputy CIO. “The NFL shares Cisco’s commitment to powering a more inclusive future and opening up meaningful opportunities for these future technology leaders is just the latest example of how we are collaborating behind the scenes with our partners to do just that.”
Nominated by their Networking Academy instructors and selected from a wide pool of applicants, the six Dream Team members represent a diversity of backgrounds, ages, skill sets and experience levels. But they all have one thing in common – the aspiration and motivation to use the skills, relationships and priceless experience that the Super Bowl offers as a springboard to future career success.
Meet Cisco’s Super Bowl LVII Dream Team
Sandra Calerway | Westchester, IL
I switched to a career in the IT field because it has been an interest of mine for some time now. I have friends who have worked in IT for a long time, and they have encouraged me to give it a try. Since the IT field is ever changing and expanding, it seems to be a career path that will continue to be in demand. I am currently enrolled in a CCNA program and look forward to earning my first certification in the new year!
Tajza Eddings | Henderson, NV
Since my start in IT/cybersecurity I’ve felt I’ve made many leaps, I’ve gotten my network + certification, I'm working towards two other cybersecurity certifications, and I'm the Vice-president of the coyote computer networking club at CSN which has really been a fun experience.
Meredith Lehmann | Augusta, GA
I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering but when COVID hit, I decided to pursue a different career path in IT/Networking/Cybersecurity. I just completed Cisco Enterprise Routing, Security, and Automation and am taking DevNet in the spring.
Vikram Lulla | Little Falls, NJ
After working for a number of years, I decided to go back to school for networking and security. Recently, I obtained a CCNA and CYBEROPS certifications. I am currently learning Python and starting another cybersecurity certification while looking for employment.
Travis Schuch | Bethlehem, PA
I began to pursue my AAS in InfoSec and BAS in Cyber Security Technology, whilst completing the CCNA curriculum. I am hoping to have passed my CCNA certification exam by the time we are in Arizona and will also have completed my first degree in InfoSec by April.
Clyde Thompson | Biloxi, MS
I spent just shy of nine years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Engineer. During that time, I trained mostly within the Counter-IED and Counter Terrorism worlds, which is what drew me to IT. My understanding of IEDs, how they function, and how to prevent detonation has a direct correlation to Cyber and Networking.
Living the Dream
For weeks leading up to the game, the Dream Team members participated in an immersive virtual experience with NFL and Cisco strategic technology implementation partner Safari Solutions to learn the ins-and-outs of what it takes to deploy the networking infrastructure at a mega-event such as Super Bowl LVII. Once on-site in the Phoenix area, the students hit the ground running, spending several days helping to set up the technology footprint at the NFL’s official fan fest, Super Bowl Experience. In addition to the hands-on work and learning, throughout their week on the ground the Dream Team had the chance to network with Cisco and NFL executives; meet-and-greet with current San Francisco 49er Arik Armstead; partake in a behind-the-scenes tour of State Farm Stadium; and participate in an NFL Career Fair Seminar.
“Getting the chance to see everything I’ve learned in the classroom and to be able to apply it to a real-world setting, at such a big event like the Super Bowl, and how it [technology] is applied at State Farm, was incredible,” said Dream Team Member Meredith Lehmann. “It gives me the confidence boost to know that I do have the skills and Cisco saw something in me. It’s so easy to have that self-doubt. But to be one of six in the nation really gives me the confidence to keep trying no matter what.”
“Being selected for the Dream Team reaffirms to me that I can do this work,” affirmed Vikram Lulla. “Cisco provides a first-class learning environment for the Net Academy. I was lucky enough to have a hybrid set-up where I was given the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the virtual component. And having this Dream Team experience on my resumé, to be able to work with Cisco lead engineers out in the field, and to be able to speak to that in the future, is going to be very helpful.”
Beyond the Football Field
The NFL is one piece of Cisco’s growing portfolio of partnerships across the sports and entertainment industry. Organizations, teams, leagues and venues around the world rely on Cisco solutions and expertise to plan and execute the largest sporting events in the world, representing a wealth of opportunities to use these platforms to help aspiring professionals gain invaluable experiences and access. Super Bowl LVII is just the start, with more to come throughout the year around the world and across the sporting landscape – from global football to golf and more. Stay tuned for where Cisco’s Dream Team will pop up next!
For more about how the NFL relies on Cisco to connect and protect their largest events, read the case study.