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Juan Cortez '12

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 34 years old and I am originally from Bakersfield California. I moved to Long Beach while I attended college and I lived there for 6 years until I was relocated to Las Vegas for my work. I graduated from CSULB with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 2012 and in 2017 I received my MS in Engineering Management from Kettering University. I currently live in the Bay Area and have 3 children Alexandria (11), Juan Carlos (8) and Sophia (3). I have recently taken up a few hobbies and activities outside of work which include learning to DJ (I’m a huge fan of hip-hop and turntablism) and learning to dance salsa and bachata. I recently completed the San Francisco Marathon and I have started training for my upcoming half Ironman triathlon in Los Cabos, Mexico.

What are you doing professionally?

I currently work for PepsiCo in the food and beverage industry. My role is a Senior Operations Manager and I am responsible for the overall manufacturing operation at our Hayward California bottling plant. I have worked in the food and beverage industry in different capacities for about 14 years.

What steps did you take towards finding/securing this job?

I didn’t start attending CSULB until after 4 years from when I graduated from high school. During this time, I had the opportunity to work in several different companies as an equipment operator and mechanic. This experience before college drove me to continue to work in the same industry during and after college. I had a full-time engineering internship for the last 4 years of my undergraduate studies and this experienced helped me to develop my technical and leadership skills to be able to secure my first job at PepsiCo which was a Manufacturing and Warehouse Sr. Associate.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I have worked in several roles across three manufacturing facilities with increasing complexity in my seven years with PepsiCo. Problems often occur that require us to think fast and creatively to come up with solutions to those issues. I have always been a great technical troubleshooter and I attribute this to my learnings from previous work experiences and from my coursework at CSULB. Being able to solve a complex technical problem to increase productivity while developing my team in the process is something that is extremely rewarding to me. Our day to day operation is fast paced and is always evolving which makes it challenging but also rewarding.

Did you envision doing this kind of work while enrolled?

I recall receiving a job alert e-mail for an Engineering Intern from our Mechanical Engineering department at CSULB and I immediately thought that this job would suit me very well based on my previous experience. Luckily, I was able to get this job and work in a field that allowed me to apply my learnings from school directly to my job and throughout the various projects I was responsible for during my internship. I also leveraged my work experiences during college to lead our Senior Design project which involved designing and fabricating a CNC router machine. My work internship and classes complemented themselves very well.

What was the biggest transition after receiving your diploma and graduating?

One of the benefits of holding a full-time job or internship while attending school is that you don’t have much of a transition into work life following graduation. However, each semester at CSULB was different and building my work schedule around my classes was something that I always looked forward to. This would allow me to work different shifts during my internship and each shift brought a completely different outlook on the overall operation. Transitioning from having that flexibility to change my schedule depending on my classes is something that I miss.

What was the most useful skill or experience that you gathered from college?

Having the opportunity to work in different project teams throughout my college classes really helped to prepare me for the various jobs and projects that I have collaborated on since graduating. Everyone has different perspectives on solving problems and collaborating in order achieve a goal can bring out the best in people. Working in a team is something that you get to do a lot of during college and I recommend taking advantage of learning as much as you can while in school to be an effective team member.

Why did you become an Alumni Member?

Being an Alumni member is one of the best ways to stay connected to the school. As a member I learned about the CSULB Alumni Mentorship program and this is my second semester being a part of it. It is very rewarding to be able to help students as they maneuver their way through college and into their future. CSULB has a great community and this is something that I definitely miss especially since I can’t visit very often due to my location. I read the alumni newsletters and this keeps updated with the campus news and different activities happening at CSULB.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

As an engineer I have always had a passion for design, fabrication, automation and for solving technical problems. While my long-term goal is to become a senior leader for our corporate engineering team, I value the critical experiences that I have gained in the time that I have worked for our supply chain function within manufacturing. The different roles I’ve held have helped me to develop my leadership skills and I see myself as a Plant Director responsible for an entire manufacturing and warehouse facility within the next five years.

Any advice for the class of 2020?

Engage yourself in school activities. While it is important to get an internship or co-op while you attend CSULB, the friendships, networking and social activities that you develop during your final year in school are extremely valuable.