Student uses MCC CISCO program and internship to create successful career
Saba Zaidi had a bachelor of business administration and a master of business administration, but she was struggling to begin a career. Those struggles led her to the Cisco program at Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology.
“I decided to take time off due to my kids,” Zaidi said. “With an MBA degree and no experience, I was reaching a dead end. MCC helped me get my life back by helping me enhance my skill set and training me for a real-world job experience.”
Zaidi, a native of Karachi, Pakistan, discovered the program at MCC-Business & Technology through the Cisco Academy locator, then contacted coordinator Kate Ellis.
“Kate was well-informed and very polite,” Zaidi said. “I decided to sign up with MCC at that point, and I am so glad I did.”
Zaidi embraced the Cisco courses built on the key concepts of networking and experience in the classroom, excelling as a student. She credited the instructors in the program for preparing her for a career in the field.
“The Cisco Network Academy is very structured and hands-on,” Zaidi said. “We got to do labs in which we worked on various Cisco technologies, and MCC even provided supplemental classes to help us further understand critical concepts.
“The instructors were equipped with both in-class and real-world knowledge. They were available any time I would reach out to them. They made the class fun, and also allowed us to work on labs during class to encourage hands-on training. They worked hard, reaching out to local companies to help find the class internships and jobs.”
Zaidi, who received a Cisco Certified Network Associate certificate from MCC, secured an internship as a project manager with Americas Enterprise Networking in May 2016, a role that grew from a summer internship to a full year. In May 2017, she began working as a network engineer for Cerner Corporation.
At Cerner, Zaidi analyzes, designs, installs, configures, stabilizes and maintains the company’s internal network infrastructure, as well as the associated technologies and equipment.
“We’re extremely proud of Saba and her success,” Ellis said. “She worked hard to begin a career in Cisco and is a shining of example of what our students can do with a quality educational experience at MCC. We look forward to following her career as she progresses in the industry.”
Zaidi lauded MCC-Business & Technology for her experience, saying, “I knew I was at a place that really cares about their students. I became friends with some amazing people. I am so happy that our friendship has continued even after we all graduated.”
“Saba’s experience is what we strive for at MCC,” added Dr. Jackie Gill, president of MCC-Business & Technology. “Part of our mission is preparing students and creating opportunities, and she is proof that we are accomplishing that.”
Zaidi had one last message for students and prospective students: “Never give up on your dreams. Just be confident and keep working hard toward your goal. You will achieve success!”
CISCO student dreams of using education to improve South Sudan
Many young adults are preparing for college in their late teens and early 20s. Before he even began pursuing a degree, Metropolitan Community College alumnus Aguer Kuir Gak K. was helping to rebuild a country.
Gak, as he is affectionately known on the MCC-Business & Technology campus, began his journey to a college education shortly after high school. He worked for the Starfish Foundation, doing much of the groundwork to build a vocational boarding school in South Sudan.
“A colleague and I were interested in doing missionary work in South Sudan, and we knew his uncle, who lives in Kansas City and who traveled with us to the country,” said Dennis Cady, founder of the Starfish Foundation. “He introduced us to Gak, who we called Little John. We were very impressed with him, and he ended up doing a lot of the work to get the school up and running.”
The Starfish Foundation is a non-profit organization that “engages in spiritual and humanitarian work among those who have very limited opportunities,” according to starfishfoundation.net.
Gak was instrumental in developing the Jonglie Christian Vocational Boarding School, working with the South Sudanese government to build the infrastructure for the facility and its programs.
“We needed to build a school that put many of our tribes together, because for a long time the tribes in my country had isolated themselves,” Gak said. “We felt this school would bring the tribes together, build a feeling of unity among the students. Then the students would go back to their community and have a sense of togetherness and family.”
Life as a refugee
For more than two decades, developing a sense of togetherness and family in South Sudan seemed nearly impossible. From 1983 to 2005, a gruesome civil war between the Sudanese government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army divided the country.
According to the U.S. Committee for Civil Wars, about 2 million people died as a result of the war, and millions were displaced. Gak, who was born less than a decade after the war began, and his family were among millions who fled their homeland.
“We were constantly in fear. You feel like now I’m in a refugee camp, and tomorrow you might be running again because of war,” Gak said. “During all that time, you’re hoping one day to go back home, where you belong.”
Gak and his family, including his mother, father, three brothers and two sisters, traveled from camp to camp to avoid conflict. He attended high school in Kenya and returned home to help build South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011, six years after the end of the civil war.
“It is in our culture to give back, and once our tribes came together as a nation in 2005, I wanted to be a part of that,” Gak said. “We are in the middle of building a nation, and it’s just like having a baby. You have to learn things before you can help people.”
Being more at MCC
By the time he began working to build Jonglie, Gak knew more about computers than the vast majority of the people in South Sudan. He recognized immediately that the country needed improved technology.
Gak knew he needed a foundation of knowledge to help the country grow. Those close to him, including Caddy, recommended he move to the United States and attend a college where he’d be most comfortable. For Gak, that decision was an easy one.
“Dennis told me about Metropolitan Community College, how well they work with international students,” he said. “When I came to the U.S., without hesitation, I went to school there. I was the most comfortable with this college.”
Gak began his college career in 2013 at MCC-Penn Valley, where he took English as a Second Language, before moving to Maple Woods. By the time he arrived at the Business & Technology campus, he had a vision.
“My dream was and is to build the first Cisco Academy in South Sudan,” he said. “This will create employment. It is something the population can use. It will help the people learn more about cultures and people outside of our country by having access through networking.”
Jumpstarting his career
Gak excelled at MCC-Business & Technology, taking on leadership roles in SkillsUSA, an organization that ensures a skilled workforce in the United States, while becoming one of the top students in the Cisco program.
“Gak has an outstanding work ethic and a compassion for other individuals that supersedes many other students,” said Kate Ellis, program coordinator. “He genuinely cares about others not only in classes, but also in the world. He is building credentials for his career, however, he seeks to do so in order to improve the lives of others.”
Gak’s work was recognized during two events in May. On May 5, he received the Cisco Student of the Year award at the MCC-BT Awards ceremony. One week later, he received an associate’s degree at commencement.
“Metropolitan Community College is like a family, and I will always see it like that,” Gak said. “There are great people here, great employees, great faculty members, like Kate Ellis in Cisco. I could not have had a better instructor. My heart will always be here.”
Gak plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Park University and work for a few years before returning to South Sudan to build the country’s first Cisco Academy and Skills organization.
“This will be ground-breaking for MCC,” Ellis said. “When Gak opens the academy in South Sudan, he will affiliate with MCC as his academy support center.”