After Paola Garcia Cardenas graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, she went on to earn a master’s in the same field as well as a second master’s degree in cybersecurity.
Today, Paola is a Cybersecurity Engineer at Bixal, a digital technology and communications firm that serves government agencies around the world. Her role day to day involves ensuring that the infrastructure of the organization’s systems is securely protected.
Also an adjunct professor of computer science and cybersecurity at two of her alma maters, STAC and New York University, Paola hopes to encourage future generations of students—especially women—to pursue careers in these high-tech fields.
“In school, I realized that I was one of only a few female students in all of the technology courses,” she says. “I decided to explore conferences and learned about many opportunities to attract and retain women in technology. That sparked my interest in the career, and inspiring other women to join the field became my passion.”
One of the things Paola loves most about her career path is that she is constantly learning new things. It’s actually a requirement of the job because, she says, “the minute you stop learning, you fall behind. It really keeps you on your toes and makes work super interesting!”
She advises college students entering the field to attend conferences, land internships, and network. “From extracurricular activities to a full one-year internship and the mentorship of my professors and counselor, these opportunities and experiences opened many doors, prepared me for industry, and gave me the courage to pursue graduate school,” Paola says.
Her one-year internship, participating on the women’s soccer team, and spending a day at Google’s headquarters as a member of the Computer Club are among her fondest memories of her college years. In addition to gaining knowledge in her field, Paola says she also developed interpersonal communication skills at STAC which were valuable to her as an international student and have paid great dividends throughout her career.
In 2021, Paola achieved an important personal milestone when she ran in the New York City Marathon. “I never thought I’d run a marathon in my life,” she writes on her web page. But she embraced the challenge of training and competing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and in doing so, raised thousands for the free youth program Rising New York Road Runners.
Growing up on a farm in Costa Rica, Paola spent many days playing soccer on a makeshift field with tree branches for goalposts and roaming cows interrupting some games. She was recruited to play soccer for Saprissa Women’s Soccer, competing in and winning the Division II championship, and playing in Division I and then with her regional team at National Games.
Paola moved to the United States in 2006 and spent two years working as an au pair in Oregon and New Jersey before deciding to establish roots in New York and continue her education.
An avid athlete and sports fan, Paola continues to enjoy running, working out, and spending time with her two dogs and two cats.