Cordasco, a New Jersey native and prominent engineering leader at Kimley-Horn, learned critical life lessons in and out of the classroom as a UMass Dartmouth student-athlete.
In the engineering industry, where creativity converges with precision, inspiration arises from unexpected sources. For John Cordasco, P.E. ’13, his distinguished civil engineering career stems from his time as a UMass Dartmouth student-athlete, where his creativity strengthened with the help of his professors and precision came in handy when catching footballs on Cressy Field.
“By the time I was a teen, I knew I wanted to be an engineer, or something along those lines at least,” Cordasco said. Since he was a young boy, his family’s long lineage in the booming New Jersey construction industry served as a catalyst for his passionate interest in engineering. He saw members of his family pour blood, sweat, and tears into laborious projects that pushed them to their physical limits. He watched them return to a strenuous workforce each day and take on back-breaking tasks in the brutal heat of summer or the dead cold of winter.
After bearing witness to the inner workings of a profession unforgiving on bad knees, aching muscles, and stiff backs, Cordasco realized he wanted to travel down a different path, one that involved wearing a suit and tie instead of dirt-caked boots. “When I got to high school, I realized I wanted to be the guy drawing out the plans and not the one building it all.”
From Foundations to Innovations
Cordasco needed a foundation to stand upon when making the trek up the New Jersey Turnpike to the Southcoast, and he found one in the heart of UMass Dartmouth. Upon his arrival as a young pupil in 2008, he discovered his niche in the football program immediately and became heavily involved in the program for all four years. While studying civil engineering full-time, he served as a football captain for two years, a position that taught him about leading under adversity and the value of teamwork.
“I learned so many important life lessons from my time as a football captain and knew I would use them in my career when I graduated,” Cordasco said. Juggling sports and academia is not simple feat, but he rose to the occasion with the support of his coaches and professors. From tiresome hours practicing his football skills on the field to studying challenging civil engineering concepts, UMass Dartmouth faculty and staff encouraged him to keep reaching for the stars and never doubted his ability to find success. “Those experiences helped prepare me for the adult world.”
Cordasco also forged forever friendships with classmates and teammates alike, becoming a leader among his peers. UMassD professors and coaches pushed them to test their limits and never settle for anything less than greatness, which established a culture of determination in and out of the classroom. “My friends were all aspiring engineers and some also played football, so we had similar schedules that gave us the same drive to succeed. Being around like-minded people to accomplish a goal is what really motivated me and drew me to UMass Dartmouth.”
Cordasco’s grit at UMass Dartmouth was reflected in his atypical internship experience throughout all four years. He returned to New Jersey every summer to work for his family’s construction company as a foreman, gaining hands-on knowledge and skills that would later benefit his engineering career. This opportunity also helped him stay active for the upcoming football seasons in the fall, a perfect recipe for success.
“I had great professors who were extremely detail-oriented and always put things into perspective. They wanted us to understand how the material will apply to the real world,” Cordasco said. As an on-site leader, he ran crews and managed projects with an eye for detail, something he learned during his studies at UMass Dartmouth. “There are some folks I worked with that didn’t have exposure to that kind of thought process, and there’s a huge difference in the quality of work.”
As he readied to graduate from UMass Dartmouth in 2013, the unwavering support of Cordasco’s friends, coaches, and professors outweighed the doubt previously placed on his ability to prosper as a civil engineer. This strong network of Corsairs helped him prove others wrong and propelled him forward, right into the waiting arms of Kimley-Horn & Associates.
Triumph at Kimley-Horn & Associates
In April of his senior year, Cordasco landed an interview at engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates that would take him across state lines and immediately plunge him into his career. Hopping on a plane to Houston, Texas paid off for this then 23-year-old budding professional, and he departed the Lone Star State with his first job offer that he gladly accepted.
“I probably took about 2 or 3 weeks to spend time with family after graduation, but then I packed up my truck and I drove from New Jersey to Texas,” said Cordasco, recalling the doubt others placed on him. Using their uncertainty as motivational fuel, he spent the first ten years with the firm diligently building his career, evolving into a knowledgeable engineer that everyone could count on.
“Throughout my career, I’ve had an opportunity to support clients in a variety of different roles, and I even ended up working hand in hand with them on different projects separate from my firm as a trusted advisor,” said Cordasco, getting to know the developer side of his business rather than just engineering. “For example, I worked with a company in Dallas for 18 months to help them through growing pains and expansions they were working on.
“I also helped my firm kick off a new program that is doing very well,” he continued. This new program is what sparked his recent relocation to Ft. Lauderdale, FL in November 2022, already fond of the palm trees and humid heat.
“Being a leader in the football program showed me how to manage people from all walks of life with different skills and abilities to bring to the team,” he said. “That really helped me understand how to deal with people better than just being in a classroom, especially given I’m in a leadership position now.”
Driven by a deep gratitude for the critical life lessons that his alma mater taught him, Cordasco yearns to give back to the university that never doubted him and molded him into the leading professional he is today. While he doesn’t have the time to help coach UMassD football, he seeks other ways to leave his mark on the Corsair student body, like recruiting graduates to work at the firm.
“I think my biggest goal is to start doing more recruiting with UMassD students and create a pipeline of skilled professionals that can impact others,” said Cordasco, ensuring that current students benefit from the same transformative experiences he had. With four UMassD alumni already working for Kimley-Horn, he is eager to fulfill this personal commitment. “I want to show people that I was just a blue-collared kid from New Jersey who went to UMass Dartmouth, worked hard, played football, and ended up having a great career. All of this is possible just by coming here.”
Cordasco’s determination to succeed was amplified by the guidance and encouragement he received from coaches, professors, and fellow Corsairs along the way. Through the challenges and triumphs of his college experience, he persevered through others’ doubt and proved that, with the right support system, anyone can overcome obstacles and reach their goals.