Spar“Ten” With Mai Mai Cantos:
10 Questions for SJSU’s Executive Director of the Student Wellness Center
By Kenneth Mashinchi
Executive Director of the Student Wellness Center Mai Mai Cantos, ’00 MPH, joined SJSU in February 2021 and immediately jumped in to lead the university’s COVID-19 response. Cantos heads a team of 75 people who have provided health and wellness services in person throughout the pandemic and keep the campus community safe.
What brought you back to SJSU to serve in this role at the height of the pandemic?
This role is a unique opportunity to work at the intersection of public health and health services and make a difference for SJSU students, one that means so much to me and has impacted my own professional journey. I want to make sure students reach their full potential and that when they are not feeling well, they have a safe, non-judgmental space to access care.
What has your routine been like in your role?
While every day is different, I have enjoyed connecting with campus units and problem-solving in ways that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. The strategic parts of the job are fun, and I am driven by the hope of getting to a time when the pandemic is behind us.
What were the biggest challenges in keeping students safe as the pandemic continued?
The constant changes in guidance, especially around isolation and quarantine, was the biggest challenge. Guidance could change weekly, or sometimes even daily, as we had to follow state and county public health guidelines while being cognizant of what was happening on campus.
What is something this pandemic has taught you about public health that will be useful moving forward?
The pandemic reinforced how important prevention and preparation are in public health. Part of the process is looking for solutions or patterns and asking yourself, “What would it take for this not to happen again?” We are now at a point where we are able to learn what did and didn’t work, so we can incorporate it if there is another public health crisis.
What has been the most rewarding part about being in your role?
Seeing students transform over their time at SJSU, from pushing through adversity to graduating and reaching their goals, is rewarding. In the public health field, it can take a long time to see change, but with students, you can see the return sooner.
What is your favorite memory from your time as a student at SJSU?
My favorite memory is also a full-circle moment in my life. As I was getting close to graduating from SJSU, I remember celebrating one of my classmates’ accomplishments during a barbecue at a picnic table near a tree that is where the Student Health Center building now stands.
What is the last show you binge watched?
"Tokyo Vice" on HBO.
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to and why?
I would go back to the Renaissance in Florence, Italy. I love the creativity that came from that era and how new ideas from philosophers, artists, mathematicians and scientists became available to the masses.
What is your favorite motto or phrase?
I have the phrase “The time is always right to do what is right” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., posted in my office.
Last one, dogs or cats?
Dogs. I have three — two miniature Schnauzer siblings named Artemis and Apollo and a terrier-chihuahua mix named Toffee.