Engineering Success: Ambitious alumna is trailblazing a career in technology

Meet Klarizsa Padilla, a member of the Class of 2013 who just graduated with a computer science degree from Georgetown University. This fall, she is headed to Columbia University in New York City where she is pursuing a second Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering.

As a mentor for Georgetown’s Women Who Code organization, a Google student ambassador, an app development intern with a tech start-up and a web editor for the university, Klarizsa spent her college years dedicated to building digital literacy and encouraging other young women to consider careers in technology.

Now embarking on her next journey, she is determined to use her analytical skills to give back through some kind of nonprofit organization.

“What interests me about computer engineering is the versatility of it,” she says. “I aspire to be able to build electrical circuits, program hardware to operate these circuits, and work in other aspects of programming.”

Her computer science interest was sparked through Google’s computer science summer institute, which she attended shortly after graduating from CRSM. On the first day, she wrote a code that made “Hello World” appear on her laptop screen.

“It was the coolest experience ever!” she says. “Nowadays, a lot of people wouldn’t have been so excited by seeing text on their laptops, but it was like, ‘I made that.’ I wanted to know what else I could make. I wanted to learn more.”

“I was so fascinated by the creativity of it,” she added. “I thought programming would be sitting at a computer…and not really having the opportunity to be creative, to be innovative. That is exactly the opposite of my view on computer science now. It’s probably one of the most creative majors, in that it is applicable across so many [areas]. You can use it to do so many different things.”

She’s determined to inspire other girls – including her three younger sisters, to pursue jobs in programming and coding as plausible options for their futures.

One of eight kids in her family, she attributes her commitment to learning and trailblazing new frontiers to her parents who taught her to embrace opportunities and to use your gifts to help others. Certainly, she is setting the stage for her younger sisters: Karolyna, who currently attends CRSM, and her 13-year-old twin sisters who hope to attend CRSM next year.

She attributes her commitment to knowledge sharing to her parents, who are “very centered on the belief that when you’ve been given an opportunity, it’s important to use that opportunity to help other people,” she explained.

In addition, as one of eight kids, “a lot of what I really value–collaboration, supporting one another, embracing other people–comes from being in a big family.”
Her parents have big dreams for all their children, she says. Her oldest brother, Oscar is 31, brother Omar, 30, is a student at the College of Lake County and her sister Kassandra, 26, and a graduate of CRSM’s third class, graduated from Lake Forest College and got her master’s from Grand Canyon University. She works in Arizona teaching students in a low-income community. Her sister, Klaudya is 23 and graduated from Marion University and now works at AON Hewitt, a CRSM, work partner.

“My parent’s highest hopes for me and my siblings are that we are truly happy and healthy,” she says. “Beyond that, having a good education, the chance to travel the world, and having a strong and prosperous career would be an added blessing.”

Recently, her entire family packed into a car with no AC to drive to D.C. to attend Klarizsa’s graduation.

“I am continuously inspired by my family and their unyielding love and support toward me and my goals,” she says. “They drove across the country to cheer for me as I crossed the stage at Georgetown. I am very grateful to have such an amazing support network.”

And, serving as a role model extends beyond inspiring her little sisters.

In 2015 Klarizsa served as a residential assistant for The Summer College Immersion Program at Georgetown, which brings high-achieving high school students from Knowledge is Power Program and Cristo Rey schools around the country to Washington D.C. for a three-week immersion experience. The high school students take college classes, live in residence halls, and receive mentorship from current Georgetown students. This program is particularly important to Klarizsa because she participated in it herself as a CRSM student.

At CRSM, she was a member of the National Honor Society and a Student Ambassador and was active in volleyball, soccer, on student council and volunteering at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, to name just a few of her myriad activities.

“I learned how interconnected subjects are and how they form our intricate world, whether in the sciences or government,” she says. “The application based learning at CRSM left me hungry to study many of my science courses more in-depth while in college, and to view both non-technical and technical problems in a larger context.”

Those lessons did not end at her CRSM graduation and she is grateful for the teachers and staff who continued to mentor her throughout college.

“CRSM played its largest role for me once I graduated high school,” she says. “Upon finding myself struggling to navigate challenging courses and new course instructor dynamics, I messaged my CRSM teachers and grew close to other Cristo Rey students who were attending Georgetown. I can’t imagine what my college experience would have been like without the Cristo Rey community.”

Fast forward ten years. Klarizsa says: “I would like my dream of doing something for the less fortunate to materialize into a nonprofit organization. In addition to, or through, doing work in service for others, I hope to continue building my passion for technology. The prospect of having the skillset to be able to do so many different things excites me and through the study of computer engineering I can reach these aspirations. I would like to understand (and continuously be learning about) the design of digital hardware and software systems and be combining my design interests and technical passions to create products that are aesthetic but efficient.”