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College of Business mentors help students prepare for life after graduation

Somewhere between the nurturing environment of college and the competitive business world, many graduates find themselves in a little bit of a panic. They wonder: What is the best path to success? Can I risk striking out on my own? Will I measure up against other job seekers?

John Cordova speaking to students
John Cordova, director of sports transaction management for the Coca-Cola Company and a New Mexico State University alumnus, speaks to students about his experiences as a marketing executive. Cordova and other NMSU alumni and business leaders have visited the campus to serve as mentors to the business students. (NMSU photo by Amanda Bradford)

John Cordova, director of sports transaction management for the Coca-Cola Company, has some advice for students who are nervous about taking bold action early in their careers.

"Don't overthink things," said Cordova, a New Mexico State University alum who's also held top marketing positions with the Miller Brewing Company and the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club. "Set your goals high and make it happen. Pick up your tent stakes and go for it."

He points to his own story as an example. Cordova was working at Texas Instruments in Lubbock as a recent graduate when he got the opportunity to begin his sports business career as a member of the Executive Development Program at the Major League Baseball Commissioner's Office in New York in 1983.

"When I left Lubbock and went to New York, I didn't know anybody," he said. "I just figured it out as I went. How do you do all this? You just do it."

Cordova visited his alma mater recently as part of the College of Business mentorship program, which continues throughout the academic year. The College of Education and NMSU Athletics also partnered to extend this mentorship opportunity to athletes and other students across disciplines. In his presentation, Cordova shared his "Cordova's Top 25" pieces of business advice and fielded questions from students about his experiences as an executive in the world of professional sports.

Having earned his bachelor's degree in 1981 and his MBA in 1983 from NMSU's College of Business, Cordova said his time at school here ¬- and the support of his professors - had a profound impact on his confidence.

"The sheer encouragement that they offered to ensure that you're a top achiever is huge," he said. "I felt like they had this undying faith in me, and they knew I could do it."

Cordova has made a point of staying connected with NMSU. The former Aggie football team captain was inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame in 2006. He serves as chairman of the NMSU Foundation Board and also is on the board of New Mexico State Sports Enterprises Inc. Cordova said he's happy to visit the College of Business to speak to students.

"At the end of the day, there are people who took the time to do this type of thing for me," he said. "I always felt it was important, when it was my opportunity, to give back. You never know what you might say that will light the pilot light for somebody and set them on the right path."

Kathy Brook, interim dean of the College of Business, said visits from mentors like Cordova and others can really make a difference to students who are looking for inspiration and advice.

"One of the greatest contributions a business graduate can make to our students is to return to the campus to visit and to offer a perspective extending beyond the classroom and the campus," Brook said. "By recounting their own successes, failures and challenges, mentors provide evidence of the many paths open to our graduates."

Other NMSU alumni who've mentored students this year include Leslie Cervantes, chief of staff for Las Cruces Public Schools; Mike Cheney, market president of WestStar Bank; Ruth Christopher of Citizens Bank of Las Cruces; Philip Cook, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Samson Resources; Larry Lujan, chairman of HUB New Mexico; Bobby Lutz, business leader and entrepreneur; Tom McCarthy, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle; Kevin Merhege, assistant vice president of Citizens Bank; and John White, a 2012 graduate and claims adjuster for GEICO.

Area business leaders who are not graduates of NMSU have also brought their insight and expertise to College of Business students through the mentor program, including Karen Hamilton, risk manager at MountainView Regional Medical Center; Courage Idemudia, vice president of Wells Fargo; Melissa McRoberts, regional college recruiter for GEICO; Richard Roberts, senior manager of corporate risk and benefits at Ensign-Bickford Industries; Michael Villa of the Office of Emergency Management for Dona Ana County and the city of Las Cruces; and Martin Yung, area president of HUB International.

Mentors scheduled to visit the College of Business during the spring semester include Kelley Coffeen, cookbook author, entrepreneur and food consultant; Perry Elders, executive vice president and CFO at J. Ray McDermott; Brad Gordon, entrepreneur; Gary Mallory, CEO and owner of Heads Up Landscaping; Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima; Bill Sheriff, retired CEO of Brookdale Senior Living and an entrepreneur; and Donna Stryker, senior vice president at First New Mexico Bank.

"My time at NMSU was such a huge influence on me that, if I can in some way help cultivate that in someone else, I feel the need to give that back," Cordova said. "I look at my time at NMSU as a bridge to the next step."