Mario Cordero remembers what it was like to graduate high school and walk onto a large and unfamiliar campus preparing to study engineering. His father had immigrated from Mexico and worked at a manufacturing plant in Compton. His mother spoke little English.
“Neither one of my parents had gone to college,” said Cordero, now executive director of the Port of Long Beach. “The only professionals we came into contact with were engineers.”
His father suggested he study engineering. “Here I was—12 years old and I wanted to be a baseball player or a musician. Engineering was kind of foreign to me,” he told students enrolled in the CSULB BESST Engineering Summer Academy.
At Gardena High School, Japanese Americans were the majority. Cordero was the only Mexican-American student studying calculus and geometry. “It was a little bit intimidating to me,” he said.
His math studies helped him score high on the SATs and gain entrance to California State University Long Beach. Initially an engineering student, he switched to political science and pre-law and went on to become a lawyer, specializing in workers compensation cases.
Executive director of the POLB since 2017, he was previously a member of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners and a President Obama appointee to the Federal Maritime Commission.
The POLB is the second-largest port in the U.S. by container traffic, after the Port of Los Angeles. It directly employs more than 5,000 people and is responsible for 51,000 jobs in Long Beach, 575,000 jobs in the five-county region, and 705,000 jobs in the United States.
“We have a lot of engineers. We build things. We do a lot in the environmental areas,” he said.
The port supports a $4 billion capital program, including the $1.5-billion Desmond Bridge replacement; the Long Beach Container Terminal, the most advanced automated terminal in the Western Hemisphere; a system of electric driverless tractors; and $1 billion in rail improvements. By 2040, the port expects to be handling 18.5 million containers per year, more than double its current volume.
“Enjoy your life as a student. The greatest years of your young adult life are going to be on this campus,” he told the incoming students, adding that he met his future wife at CSULB. “You can do anything you want. You can imagine anything you want.”
Believing in yourself and being positive are also important. “You never know what doors will open for you. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”