National Hispanic Heritage Month profile: Roberto Cordova

  • Published
  • By Denise Elbert, AFNWC Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
For National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center would like to recognize one of its own as a modern-day history maker.

Roberto “Bear” Cordova is a New Mexico native and obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico, along with taking numerous business classes. He has been working at AFNWC in Albuquerque for nearly 2 1/2 years. He serves as chief for the Systems Engineering Policy Branch in the Engineering Directorate.

Prior to working with the Air Force, he worked at NASA as an engineer and program director. Cordova has also supported the Department of Defense and Department of Energy in the private industry.

Cordova has excelled at changing the culture among the policy team members while leading and motivating his team of engineers. For example, during the limited travel due to COVID-19, he implemented a project to improve communication by launching a 30-minute monthly webinar series aimed at improving systems engineering and spotlighting technologies to help AFNWC programs. This project helped improve interaction among the policy team members. It was such a success that other programs also began requesting access to the webinars.

He has partnered with the other branch manager to champion projects aimed at improving technologies and systems engineering. One project with great promise is defining artifacts to increase efficiency and improve practices through digital engineering. Once these artifacts are defined, the group will use model-based systems engineering to better define user requirements.

He also initiated an outreach project to adopt a community Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics magnet school to mentor and motivate the next generation of scientists, engineers and doctors. This started by raising nearly $2,000 to provide hands-on experiments for the students to conduct at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once conditions allowed in-person visits, engineers began volunteering to give interactive presentations and conduct experiments for students. Along with motivating the next generation, the project has improved the team’s morale.

Cordova also serves as a jiu-jitsu instructor during his personal time. He teaches the martial art seven hours per week to encourage respect, hard work and discipline in his students. He works with youth who have been bullied to improve their self-confidence, which spills over into all areas of life.

Cordova is one of the leaders supporting the AFNWC Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Office’s efforts as a champion for the Fostering Unity by Strengthening Inclusive Opportunities Now Group.

In our dialogue, he answered a few questions:

What have been your greatest challenges in federal service, and how did you overcome them?

I believe the outlier is change. We have all witnessed the resistance to change. We become comfortable with what we know, and thus human nature struggles with change. While at NASA, the “failure is not an option” culture was ingrained in me, so when it comes to getting buy-in for change, I have found that there have been several keys to succeeding.

First, think about the people the change will affect. Look for win-win situations that take their needs and feelings into consideration when making change. If you can do this, everyone is better off.

Second, when looking for change, be creative. This can involve thinking outside of the box or throwing the box away and starting from scratch with an entirely new perspective of how to define and accomplish goals. Take in others’ suggestions; they may be great or something to build on.

Third, communication helps to define and tell others about your vision and goals, so the message needs to be clear. Normally, if people can understand the goal and you have strong arguments of how it will bring positive changes that will benefit them, they will believe in your vision and believe in you.

Finally, don’t be afraid to do things that haven’t been done before. Utilize your network: Ask for advice frequently, and ask for help when you need it.

What advice would you give members of your affinity group, specifically in navigating their civil-service careers or life?

Here I am going to pass on advice given to me by my parents: Continually improve and be better than you were the day before. This can be physically, mentally or spiritually. Don’t just do better; be better. Be the best that you can, and this becomes infectious. Others around you will either inspire you or you will inspire others.

As for those haters out there, they are just jealous of what you have become. In the words of Katt Williams , “If you have haters, strive to get another. It just means you are doing great things.” Be helpful, show kindness and be positive.

As a champion for DEIA efforts at AFNWC, what do you want people to know and/or do?

As I grow older and gain experience, I have learned not to use the “golden rule” as is. Don’t treat people how you would like to be treated. Rather, put yourself in their shoes and treat others they way that they would like to be treated. If you are not sure, take a moment and ask them. People tend to respect the fact that you will take time to talk to them.

I have had the experience where I started to get the door for someone in a wheelchair. They seemed to take offense, or perhaps he was just having a bad day, and told me that they could do it and didn’t want my help. This took me by surprise but made me think that perhaps they felt I thought they couldn’t do it their self. I learned to ask, “Would you like me to get the door for you?”

Once again, the power of communication. This approach can be applied in many situations and works quite well.