Professor from Yemen teaches at the college program he helped build.

By Simon Albaugh – YAN – Dearborn

Through the Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan, the Cisco Networking Academy builds students into IT Professionals. It’s one of thousands of Cisco-run programs around the world that takes two-years, or four courses, to complete. However, students around Detroit who complete the lowest-level certification can be qualified for jobs with salaries around $50,000. At the highest level, salaries can exceed $100,000.


It’s a difficult program, according to one faculty member. And with re-certification exams running every three years, the work won’t be over once a student has graduated. But it’s worth it, says Taha Abdulkarim, one of three professors in the program.


Abdulkarim has been teaching with Henry Ford for over ten years. His classes fall under Cisco’s CCNA and CCNP Certifications, which means that someone can become an IT Network Associate or professional from Henry Ford’s programs. Abdulkarim himself holds a higher certification as a network engineer, certifying that he can build the IT Networks for institutions and larger businesses.


Since 1998, Abdulkarim has been teaching in the field of computer networks. He graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from Wayne State University. But before that, he was studying at Henry Ford College, the same place where he teaches now.


Computers first started to fascinate him when he went to a workshop in Eureka Michigan. “And I liked the ideas,” Abdulkarim said. He was most fascinated by the way computer networks are capable of mass communication throughout institutions. “So I started reading and reading about this,” Abdulkarim said.


Abdulkarim eventually earned his certification for working at Henry Ford as a Tech Specialist. He would help instructors learn how to use technology and troubleshoot small issues. Eventually, his skills became outdated and he needed to learn a new network format, Cisco. And nearly directly after he became certified in Cisco, a faculty member at the place he worked approached him.


“There was an instructor who was retiring,” Abdulkarim said. “He was building the Cisco program here, and I met with him. He found out that I was certified, so he said ‘Hey Taha, I need you to come and help me.’ That’s how I became a teacher.”


He’s been teaching Cisco for the past 11 years at Henry Ford College in Dearborn. Students on call him a patient teacher who will do anything to help a student understand the material. This has everything to do with how Abdulkarim first learned at the same college he’s teaching.


Abdulkarim first came to the United States from Yemen in 1977. He was working as a laborer in the GM plants for $2.69 an hour. He says he always came to class late because of the long shifts, often exceeding 12 hours.


“It’s not that easy for someone to come from overseas and find these challenges,” Abdulkarim said. “But it’s a reality.”


Working to help support his family while going to school meant juggling more than was comfortable. But Abdulkarim talked about one professor who made the time a little easier.


“He was helping me in whatever I would miss,” he said. “He’d share with me in terms of the lecture, in terms of material. And he knew I came from a different country. He knew and he was helping me out and giving me a lot of exercises to improve and advance.”


On one of the first days as an instructor, Abdulkarim sat next to that same professor. And of course the professor remembered him and welcomed him to the community. “It gives me the feeling that I really appreciate the Henry Ford Community,” Abdulkarim said. “Because they helped me big time. Big time.”


Taha Abdulkarim’s life and career is just one slice of what can be done within a program like Cisco’s. In reality, people can work anywhere and even take the certification classes online. It’s a challenge, as Abdulkarim will attest. But he’ll also say that there’s never been a better time to go into the IT field.


“Now, Cisco is adding big topics,” Abdulkarim said. “New things like virtualizations, they’re adding cybersecurity. So it’s a big step for students that are interested in the IT field.”


For anyone interested in computers, this can be another option for finding a career that fits anyone’s interest in how computers communicate. But it’s a long process that demands commitment to the subject. And oftentimes, it won’t come easy.


“You can’t just have the knowledge,” Abdulkarim said. “The knowledge will come, you just have to have the patience. Maybe today you won’t get it. But tomorrow, you will.”


But as Taha Abdulkarim can show, the way to find a good career in a vast economy isn’t always going to be the first thing someone finds. But if it’s done right, it will always be the best jobs someone will have.