“I knew I had an interest in computers,” Hardee said. “That’s why I chose UTSA. They have a really good cybersecurity program. It was the only school I wanted to go to. UTSA is where it’s at.
UTSA is a nationally recognized leader in cybersecurity. It is one of the few colleges or universities in the nation—and the only HSI—to have three National Centers of Academic Excellence designations from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.
Reflecting this past semester on her experiences at UTSA, Hardee credits her involvement with UTSA and the arts for making her a complete person. She has worked as a mentor, competed on the college’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team, joined the Women in Cyber Security organization, and was a member of UTSA’s Swing Dance Society.
It was these outside interests that caused Hardee to question his pursuit of a career in cybersecurity.
“I’ve been surrounded by people who love what they do, so they eat, sleep and dream,” she said. “But it wasn’t me, so I always thought I wasn’t doing things right. My hobbies were my arts. I like to sing, dance and play. »
As she considered changing majors, one of her art teachers told her something that kept her on the path to cybersecurity.
“She told me to do something to feed my stomach and something to feed my soul,” she said.
Hardee also credits the Alvarez College of Business for making her a well-rounded student. As a cybersecurity major in a business school, she learned the technical skills required in her trade and became familiar with soft management, communication and leadership skills.
“I always knew I wanted to work with people,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a natural manager. All of these business courses helped me understand business better and brought me to where I am today. »
Convinced that she truly belonged in the cybersecurity field, she began exploring the best career path for her skills. Meeting an alumnus, Hardee quickly became familiar with the field of governance, risk and compliance, and it seemed to fit her naturally.
Working throughout college to fund his education, Hardee also completed two internships that furthered his interests. Working for a small managed services provider, she had her first introduction to compliance, helping align the company with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. She loved every minute of it. Hardee was also the campus director of the SmartCode Coding Academy, which offers coding classes for children and teens.
“I was able to apply the business skills I learned to help run this business,” she said. “And, I also had the technical background to provide guidance to instructors when they needed help.”
On a whim, Hardee applied for a scholarship to attend the Women in Cyber Security organization’s national conference. She wanted the opportunity to travel as part of her college experience, but was unable to pursue this goal due to her work schedule. She won the scholarship and last March attended the conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I didn’t attend the conference to look for a job,” Hardee said. “I had my job with SmartCode, and I had gotten another internship for the summer. I was always attracted to small companies, not big companies, but this opportunity fell on me.
Southwest contacted her several times to encourage her to apply to their organization. At first, Hardee ignored them, but soon realized they were serious about him. After a telephone interview, she was invited to attend an in-person interview during the conference.
“Hearing them talk and seeing how passionate they were confirmed that I belonged there,” Hardee said. “They’re one of the few airlines that do their cybersecurity support in-house. I’m really excited to be in an environment where they care so much about their people.
Hardee admits it’s surreal to know that everything she’s worked for has paid off, but it’s a good feeling.
“Knowing that I’m going to be able to support myself and my family is an unbeatable feeling,” she said.