As Lisa Cortinas prepares to receive her second degree from the UTSA Carlos Alvarez College of Business this May—a Master’s in Science in Information Technology with a Cyber Security concentration—she can’t remember why she originally doubted her abilities.
Growing up on the south side of San Antonio, she noted that most people from her community do not attend college. But, she credits her mom with encouraging her to continue her education. “I fell in love with learning,” said Cortinas, who received her B.B.A. in cyber security from UTSA in 2019 and an associate degree from St. Philip’s College in 2017.
“As a first-generation college student, I must say I had no idea life would lead me where I am today,” said Cortinas. “You might not always know exactly what you will end up doing professionally, but keep chasing those opportunities and never give up.”
In addition to her two degrees, she has also received two of the highest honors from the college. Just this month she was one of 20 students named a Distinguished Graduate Business Student. As an undergraduate she received the Distinguished Business Student award.
“I’ve learned so much during my four years at UTSA,” she said. “The time has passed so quickly.”
Cortinas’ interest in federal careers was sparked by her participation in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities national internship program. The program provides paid internship opportunities with federal agencies for all majors and backgrounds. Through the program she completed internships with the U.S. Census Bureau across three divisions as well as one with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“I began my internship at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. in January 2020 right before the pandemic hit,” said Cortinas. “They sent us back home by March of that year, but I continued to intern for them throughout my graduate degree.”
Navigating higher education during a pandemic was a challenge as well. Her undergraduate program was taught entirely in person, while she completed all of her graduate courses virtually. “We conducted a lot of independent research, but most of the last year was spent working in groups. We found a way to adapt.”
Hands down her favorite professor was Rob Kaufman, associate professor of practice in information systems and cyber security. Taking almost five different courses with him, she valued his real world experience and extensive knowledge in the field as well as his concern for ensuring that his students were successful.
Before even completing her graduate degree, Cortinas’ connections at the U.S. Census Bureau led to a full-time job offer in March. She was hired as a contract specialist in their acquisitions department supporting operations and information technology.
Cortinas leveraged the resources in the Alvarez College of Business to help prepare her for these opportunities. Working with the college’s former Center for Student Professional Development, she attended all of the programming they offered to learn how to create a resume, network with employers and conduct a successful interview. She completed three mock interviews in preparation for her interview with the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The college’s professional development programming prepared me to become the businesswoman that I am today,” she said.
In her new role she supports information technology, but utilizes more of her business skills. Learning how to administer pre-award and post-award contracts is something she loves.
Acknowledging that the past year was the hardest of her life due to medical issues with her mother and the passing of her older brother due to COVID-19, she is grateful that she was able to complete her degree.
“Believe in yourself. If you put in the time and put in the work, you can accomplish almost anything,” she said.