Cisco Networking Academy's NFL Apprentice

Cisco's Networking Academy NFL Apprenticeship Program creates opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds to explore a career in technology and sports.
Cisco Networking Academy's NFL Apprentice
Jan 11, 2024

By her own admission, Emilie Dionisio might seem like an unconventional choice to be the first-ever Cisco Networking Academy NFL Apprentice. She is not an avid football fan – or even a casual one, to be honest. She didn’t pursue a traditional college degree or harbor a lifelong desire to work in sports. But when she came across a once-in-a-lifetime job posting through her Networking Academy coursework at CoopTech of NYC, she knew it was a leap of faith that she had to take.

"When I saw this opportunity pop up, I looked at the description and was like, ‘I can do this, I can do this, I can do this’,” Emilie shared. “So I just did it – I just applied for it. I know that in this field, there are very few women, and with my non-traditional experience...I just wanted to challenge myself. So that’s what I did.”

The Networking Academy NFL Apprenticeship Program was born out of a shared vision between Cisco and the NFL to create opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds to jumpstart their careers in technology and sports. As an Official Technology and Cybersecurity Partner of the league, Cisco not only ensures that the NFL is connected and protected 365 days a year, but also uses that platform to further its corporate mission to power a more inclusive future for all.

The first-of-its-kind apprenticeship program was designed to offer one outstanding Networking Academy alumnae the opportunity to work alongside senior IT leaders at the NFL throughout the 2023-2024 season, gaining invaluable hands-on experience and forging relationships to further their careers in the industry.

No stranger to navigating complex situations and learning on the fly, Emilie’s varied life experiences have bred in her an innate self-confidence that led her to believe she could achieve in the role with the NFL, even without a strong football background or more traditional computer science degree in her arsenal.

“Working alongside my Director and Senior Network Engineers within the NFL has been an empowering experience,” she said. “Their mentorship and support have been instrumental in boosting my confidence and expanding my skills. It's been inspiring to see these leaders champion diversity and actively work towards creating an inclusive environment.”

The job opening obviously generated substantial interest from a stack of eager and qualified candidates, but NFL Deputy CIO Aaron Amendolia said it was the intangibles that Emilie brought to the table that caught his eye.

"What we saw in Emilie was a curiosity to learn different things,” Amendolia said. “To go outside of the traditional networking to wireless, to learn how we apply that on the field to the tablets that we run. Just really hungry to learn, with very positive energy, and willing to work with all team members.”

Throughout her time with the NFL, Emilie has worked closely with the IT team on centralized network management, security integration, and rogue access point detection – all skills that will undoubtedly benefit her career greatly in the future. But equally as important are the soft skills that she is picking up along the way, like creative problem-solving, communicating complex information, and managing high-pressure situations.

Emilie’s decision to go out on a limb and pursue the NFL opportunity despite her initial uncertainty has certainly paid off, reinforcing her belief in the importance of diversity and varied perspectives in the workplace. As a minority female, she is keenly aware of the importance and long-term impact that these programs can have in continuing to ensure that underrepresented individuals have ample opportunity to gain experience in what remains a traditionally male-dominated sports technology space.

“Being the first woman Cisco Networking Academy Apprentice with the NFL is both a source of pride and a responsibility that I take seriously,” said Emilie. “It signifies breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes in a male-dominated field. It represents an opportunity to pave the way for more women to enter and excel in the IT and networking industry, and I'm committed to being a positive example and advocate for diversity and inclusion.”

Photos of Emilie at NFL Headquarters, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 in New York. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)