As her father battled cancer, he repeated a mantra each day that Mylissa Magallanes will never forget: “Today is a good day and tomorrow will be better.”
In 2020, Magallanes was a primary caregiver for her father, helping him while she studied for an MBA and worked full time at Cal State LA as the university navigated the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The weight of it all made Magallanes consider leaving graduate school, but her dad was unwavering: No matter what happens, keep pursuing the degree. So Magallanes continued her studies—through her dad’s illness and her caregiving, through his death and her grief.
When Magallanes crossed the Cal State LA Commencement stage last month, her dad was not in the audience, but his words were present with each step she took.
“It’s a really emotional experience and something I was really looking forward to sharing with [my father], but I am also very proud of being able to finish my degree,” the 29-year-old Pasadena resident says. “I am proud of myself, and I know he is very proud of me.”
Magallanes graduated with a 4.0 GPA and celebrated receiving a Master of Business Administration with an option in marketing from Cal State LA’s College of Business and Economics during Commencement 2022, which took place during the university’s 75th anniversary.
Magallanes grew up in Temple City, about 10 miles from Cal State LA. Her parents, who are both first-generation college students, met while taking classes at Pasadena City College and both went on to graduate from Cal State LA.
Magallanes’ mom is Japanese American, and her dad was Mexican American. Both of her family backgrounds have shaped her personal values and commitment to pursuing higher education and serving her community.
Her grandfather on her dad’s side dropped out of high school to work and support his family, but returned to school in his 50s and completed his GED while working as a cement mason. He and his wife, Magallanes’ grandmother, raised five children while working, and four of the five went on to pursue master’s degrees.
Magallanes’ maternal grandmother and her immediate family were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II.
Although all their possessions were taken from them, her family rebuilt from nothing. She eventually married Magallanes’ grandfather, who built a successful auto-mechanic business with only a high school education.
“Despite facing social injustices, discrimination and financial hardship, my grandparents instilled the importance of education in their children who passed that value down to me,” Magallanes says.
“Hearing these stories from my family members—and knowing that others from my community still face similar challenges today—contribute to my ‘why,’ and are what drove me to pursue my MBA and seek out meaningful work that helps others,” Magallanes says. “It’s my personal mission to advocate and continue sharing the stories of my family so that more people who come from underrepresented communities can experience the same opportunities and privileges I was given.”
Magallanes cultivated a passion for organizing and managing community events as an undergraduate student at San Diego State, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation tourism management in 2015. During college, she worked as a part-time recreational leader for the city of San Diego coordinating recreational programming for people with disabilities. After graduating, she served as an assistant director for the city’s Hilltop Recreation Center before working as an event coordinator for the Pasadena Convention Center.
She first started working at Cal State LA in 2017 as facilities use coordinator and then facilities use manager, coordinating and overseeing the use of campus facilities for activities such as meetings, events, conferences and film shoots by internal and external entities.
In her current role as deputy director for strategic partnerships and initiatives at Cal State LA, Magallanes supports key projects serving the university and wider community, including COVID-19 booster and vaccination clinics with AltaMed and QueensCare Health Centers, the #CaliforniansForAll College Corps statewide service initiative, the Achieve LA college-readiness partnership with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, and We Are Healthy LA.
“I get to work hand in hand with the community, advocate for underserved populations and acquire resources for communities in need,” Magallanes says. “I have always tried to seek out positions where I can give back and where the most impact is.”
Magallanes says the MBA courses she took equipped her with practical skills and knowledge in management, finance, operations, organizational culture and logistics that proved to be invaluable in 2021, when she co-led the federal mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Cal State LA.
The university was one of the first federal community vaccination centers launched through a partnership between the federal government and the state of California, which was part of the Biden administration’s effort to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the country last year.
A member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Magallanes also serves as the advisor for the Cal State LA student chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity.
Looking to the future of her career, Magallanes plans to continue to find ways to help organizations align their core missions and operations with their goal of having a social impact.
“For me, in my career and day-to-day job, I always want to be working toward being able to give back to the communities that I come from,” she says. “They are the reason I have all the opportunity I have now.”
By giving back, she continues to honor the legacy of her family and the memory of her father.
As two faculty members placed a master’s hood around Magallanes shoulders on the Commencement stage in May, she grinned and waved both hands in the air as her loved ones cheered from the audience.
As she walked back to her seat among the sea of graduates, a line of gold text could be read on her adorned graduation cap.
“Today is a good day and tomorrow will be better.”