By Alice Sanchez
Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
This post was authored by Alice Sanchez, a Customer and Partner Experience software architect and global co-lead of Cisco’s Native American Network (NAN).
As I stood on the campus of Lac Court Oreille Ojibwe University (LCOOU), I was filled with pride to be representing not just Cisco but also the Native/Indigenous community. I was there for the signing of a new partnership to support the university and its students, enabled by Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) and Cisco.
Participating in this event was meaningful to me for two reasons. First, because representation matters. I was representing my heritage—Pomo, Hawaiian, and Choctaw—as well as the broader Native/Indigenous community. Second—and no less important—because of the way Cisco’s investment will benefit Native/Indigenous students.
Expanding to Support Tribal Colleges
In 2021, Cisco announced our partnership with SFI, a nonprofit that supports students attending minority-serving institutions. As part of this partnership, Cisco funded a $50 million endowment for juniors and seniors pursuing STEM education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The funding was part of $150 million commitment to HBCUs through Cisco’s social justice initiative. Our inaugural work with HBCUs created a blueprint that is now expanding to other minority-serving institutions, and LCOOU is the first tribal college beneficiary.
“Bridging the digital divide for Native/Indigenous communities is paramount for helping them achieve sovereignty for themselves and future generations.”
Supporting Students Beyond Financial Needs
LCOOU now has access to a loan program for juniors and seniors in STEM, but the partnership with LCOOU goes beyond dollars. It also includes technology modernization and access to the Cisco Networking Academy.
Part of the agreement includes ensuring LCOOU can meet important cybersecurity standards.
Cisco partner, Procellis, was engaged to conduct an assessment required by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Colleges and universities must be in compliance with more than 100 security controls to continue receiving federal aid under Title IV. Cisco’s donation of security products and services will help LCOOU achieve and maintain cybersecurity compliance.
For minority-serving institutions like LCOOU, protecting federal funding through technology compliance is critical.
Cisco Networking Academy
Cisco is also working with LCOOU to place a Networking Academy at the university. The university will be able to include Network Academy curriculum in its computer science program. As a result, students can graduate with a degree as well as industry-recognized certification.
Supporting Native/Indigenous Communities
I’m proud of the efforts that Cisco has made not just to listening to Indigenous voices, but also supporting and empowering us. Our work with LCOOU is one example, but there are so many more.
For example, I’m co-lead of our Native American Network (NAN), one of our employee resource organizations. Cisco is the first company I’ve worked at that has a Native American network. We’re a small group—Native Americans make up less than 1% of Cisco’s employee base. NAN gives us a vehicle to celebrate our culture and make contributions to the Native/Indigenous community. We are also able to build bridges between our company and Native communities, many of which do not trust big companies, and can benefit from technology.
I am proud of Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all and commitment to ensuring minority-serving institutions like LCOOU have access to technology, services and infrastructure. Bridging the digital divide for Native/Indigenous communities is paramount for helping them achieve sovereignty for themselves and future generations.
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