Brandy Newbern, a 28-year old mom and homegrown Chicagoan, had always been interested in Information Technology (IT). Although she originally pursued an education in nursing and had a steady career in sales while managing her very own small business, she continuously felt called to work ‘behind the screen’. “For two years I pondered it, and one day I received an email about IT Career Lab,” says Brandy. Elliott Esparza, IT Career Lab and National Able Network’s Technical Education Manager, had sent an email invitation asking Brandy to join him at an information session in Pilsen. “I went to the info session and after hearing Elliott speak, I was so interested and couldn’t wait to learn more.” Brandy quickly enrolled in IT Career Lab, and her future changed forever.

“I started class in January and I had never done networking before,” says Brandy, “But my instructor Marse Visnevac [and 2020 IT Career Lab graduate], made it a great experience and a very easy transition.” During this particular IT Career Lab class cohort, one of IT’s biggest conventions, Cisco Live, would take place in Las Vegas. Cisco Live provides an opportunity for networking students to join Cisco Live’s Dream Team. As part of the Dream Team, participants not only attend Cisco Live and help build networking infrastructure at the event, but they also receive special hands-on training, access to workshops, attend live keynote speeches, networking events, and much more. All IT Career Lab students, including Brandy, were encouraged to apply. Out of thousands of applicants across the United States and Canada, only seven were selected…and Brandy was one of the lucky seven!

“It was a big opportunity to network…I met so many Cisco executives and even met Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco,” says Brandy, “It was a once in a lifetime experience. Many of us left with job opportunities and mentors. Being part of the Cisco Dream Team opened up a lot of doors.” After nine days at Cisco Live in Las Vegas, Brandy returned to Chicago and jumped right back into her IT Career Lab coursework without skipping a beat. Currently, she’s actively working on attaining her Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification while debating her career focus. With so many options to choose from, Brandy is doing her research! At this time, she feels her goal is to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

When reflecting on her experience, Brandy says, “IT Career Lab has helped me tremendously in building my confidence. I feel like I can tackle anything in the world. They opened up a lot of doors for me especially as a woman and a mom in a male-dominated field…because of IT Career Lab I met people I wouldn’t have been able to meet and get advice from them. IT Career Lab put me in another bracket. My resume is going to stand out because of the opportunities I received at IT Career Lab. I really hope we can get more people into it. It has changed my life. If I had just deleted that email from Elliott…but something in me said ‘go ahead and do it’. So, I really hope that this helps a lot of people – especially moms – break into tech. Get confident and try it out!”