Feature Story

Family and education serve as a foundation for the leader of Cisco Networking Academy

Laura Quintana headshot

Laura Quintana reflects on her own career journey and how Networking Academy empowers an Inclusive Future.

Guest Post by Laura Ruelas

If one must choose just one word to describe Laura Quintana, you might choose auténtica. As the vice president and general manager of Cisco Networking Academy, she leads the company’s largest global corporate social responsibility program which transforms the lives of learners, educators, and communities through the power of education and career opportunities. Throughout her life, education has served as the center of her personal universe with family, mentors, and defining moments shaping who she is and where she’s going.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Laura shares her perspective, and her deeply personal mission to help others carve their own futures. As a co-sponsor for Conexión, Cisco’s employee group for the Latinx community, Quintana offers fellow Cisconians insight into the impact they can make together as part of our Inclusive Future.

Q: What was your life like as a young girl? What did you dream about?

A: From the time I was small, my Mom and Dad stressed how important school was. I embraced that completely. I dreamed about going to college, and thanks to my Dad, I got an early glimpse into what ‘college kids’ did. As a young girl, Dad would take me to the School of Dentistry on the UCLA campus for my dental appointments. As we walked together, I remember hearing him say “Look at those students. That’s going to be you one day.” Having that proximity to a campus, seeing students with backpacks, and having my Dad’s encouragement made it feel possible. I am blessed beyond measure for having a Mom and Dad who pushed me to dream big and strive beyond my circumstances.

“Young people are a reflection of their communities. It is the responsibility of organizations such as Cisco to create an inclusive future so that we can nurture sparks of curiosity into flames of life-long learning.”

Q: How has your educational experience shaped your path?

A: Education has played such a big role in my life and creating opportunity. In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I was selected to participate in a program called Minority Introduction to Engineering at UCLA. It was a two-week, in-residence program where professors directed hands-on projects. We launched small rockets into the sky. I visited P&G, and I saw how Pampers were made. The most powerful part of the program offered an opportunity to talk with participants from the prior year. It was the first time I heard another Latina talk about applying to top schools as an engineering major. I recall thinking “If she could do it, I can do it.” And, so I did. Whether an intensive program like this, or an internship or ultimately earning my engineering degree at Stanford with a full scholarship, I took every opportunity. From my early experience in engineering and product management at HP, to my marketing and operations leadership roles at Cisco – my life is a culmination of defining moments, mentorship, and opportunities.

See also: Digital divide's massive problem

Q: Your career journey has led you to Cisco Networking Academy. How has your life and experiences prepared you for this role?

A: The opportunity to lead Cisco Networking Academy is a dream job. I know firsthand the power of education. Educators shaped me into an avid and eager learner. From the teachers who creatively inspired me to the teachers who wrote recommendations, it made all the difference. Every day I can have a direct impact on creating educational opportunities for people around the world. Our vision for Networking Academy and my personal passions are just so well aligned. When I look across Networking Academy, the students remind me of myself. Our course content, assessments, self-paced learning, and instructor resources, shape not only the future of technology, but the people who are doing the work. It’s an extraordinary and awesome responsibility, and infinitely rewarding.

Q: Latinos are underrepresented in STEM fields, technology, and leadership roles. What can organizations and communities do to create a more inclusive future?

A: Young people are the reflection of their communities. It is the responsibility of organizations such as Cisco to create an inclusive future so that we can nurture sparks of curiosity into flames of life-long learning. This is how we cultivate new paths for Latinas and underrepresented people in STEM to prepare them for fulfilling careers and leadership roles. It is our collective responsibility to create the moments, mentorship, and resources to advance those who have the capabilities but perhaps not the connections.

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Q:  If you could give a young Laura Quintana advice, what might you tell her?

A:  Believe in yourself, Laura! It’s going to be OK! I learned along the way that I always felt like I had to be at my best, improve, and do better. Those are great qualities, but that can be exhausting. Along the way, discover what brings you joy and tap into your heart. The days are long, but the years are short. Enjoy the work and celebrate the journey, too!

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