Paola Garcia, 2012

Hometown: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Major: Computer Science

“There are lots of opportunities for women in computer science, because the ratio of women to men is very low. It’s a good time to be a woman in computing.”

Paola Garcia Cardenas was born and raised in Nicoya, a small city located in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica in a house located in the middle of her grandparents’ farm. Growing up, access to technology was limited, but when she turned eight, Paola’s parents signed her up for a computer course at the local high school. There, she learned to program with LOGO.

“I remember always being excited to go to computer class to give commands to the ‘turtle’ and print my creations,” Paola says. “I did not know back then that the programming class would be a key turning point in my life.”

In 2006, Paola traveled to the United States to work as an au pair. After spending two years with families in Oregon and New Jersey, Paola decided to pursue her undergraduate degrees. She attended Rockland Community College, graduating with an A.S. in computer information systems, before transferring to STAC for her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She then went on to attend graduate school at Pace University, earning her master’s degree in computer science.

“I always wanted to go to college in the United States,” Paola says. “There are so many opportunities here.”

Paola took advantage of as many of those opportunities as she could.

At STAC, Paola played midfielder for the Lady Spartan soccer team. She also worked as a computer science tutor at the college’s Center for Academic Excellence.

One of her most rewarding experiences was being selected one of 19 students nationwide to work with the Blue Waters Undergraduate Petascale Education Project. The program is a yearlong undergraduate internship, funded by the National Science Foundation, involving the application of high-performance computing to real problems in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.

In 2011, Paola presented her findings at the Supercomputing Conference, in Seattle and submitted a paper on her experience to The Journal of Computational Science Education.

She also earned scholarships to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the largest gathering of women technologists in the world.

“Grace Hopper was so motivating,” Paola says. “When I look back on my years at STAC, the opportunities I had to go to and present at conferences are my best memories.”

Paola currently works as a contractor web developer for Scientific Search in Livingston, New Jersey, working on full-stack web development. She is also an adjunct professor in computer studies at Rockland Community College. Prior to Scientific Search, Paola served as webmaster for Datadog, in New York City.