Cal State LA student finds ways to lead
A television, film and media studies major, he was a campus leader on mental health issues.
By LeAnn Zuniga | Cal State LA News Service
Dylan Gunaratne is not one to shy away from the spotlight.
In his time at Cal State LA, he has delivered a TEDx talk, founded two student organizations, produced films and emerged as a leading student voice on mental health issues.
The 24-year-old Pasadena resident graduated magna cum laude in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Television, Film and Media Studies, with minors in communication and entertainment marketing. He hopes to become a leader in the media industry.
Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada, Gunaratne moved to Los Angeles five years ago to attend Santa Monica College.
When Gunaratne saw Television, Film and Media Studies listed as a major while applying to Cal State LA, he immediately knew it was the path he wanted to take. Shortly after starting here, he was selected for a fellowship through Outfest and the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s OutSet Young Filmmakers Project.
“I realized media is something I love and have always loved,” Gunaratne says. “I wanted to explore it as a career option.”
Through his major Gunaratne has worked on many different projects, including producing a talk show with Golden Eagle Productions that focused on mental health.
While at Cal State LA, Gunaratne also noticed his friends would often confide in him about their mental health struggles. He realized he was experiencing similar issues, but public dialogue about mental health challenges was not widespread.
This realization motivated Gunaratne to volunteer for a year as a crisis line counselor at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. With guidance from Cal State LA alumna Lauren Jorgensen, a health educator at the Student Health Center, he also started a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which works to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health.
Gunaratne spoke about his experience starting the chapter, working as a crisis hotline volunteer and the importance of listening during a TEDxCalStateLA talk in 2017.
“Listening is actually a choice that we all have to make on a minute-to-minute, second-to-second basis all the time,” he said in the talk, which now has nearly 12,000 views on YouTube. “It’s a choice that we make to more deeply connect with ourselves while also bridging that understanding between one another. But most importantly, true listening can actually save someone’s life.”
Cal State LA President William A. Covino and Debbie Covino presented a Mind Matters Champion award to Gunaratne in December 2017. The honor is given in recognition of students, faculty and staff who promote inner well-being on campus. Gunaratne also served on the leadership team of the Mind Matters Changemakers, a student group on campus devoted to furthering the work of the Mind Matters initiative.
Gunaratne was the vice president of the Gamma Epsilon Chapter of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and is the founder and president of the Cal State LA Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Collective. He received the Hugo M. Leckey Scholarship from the College of Arts and Letters at Cal State LA, as well as the Lifeworks Comcast NBCUniversal Media Scholarship.
Throughout his undergraduate career, Gunaratne has held numerous internships in the media and entertainment industry, including with Fox Entertainment Group and currently with Sony Pictures in branded integration.
But his path was not without obstacles. The first studio internship offer Gunaratne received was later rescinded because he was not a U.S. citizen. Instead of remaining discouraged, Gunaratne picked himself back up and started submitting applications everywhere he could. He eventually landed an internship with Holor Media, a virtual reality media company, conducting research that analyzed the competitive growth of the virtual reality market.
Gunaratne credits Cal State LA for helping him succeed.
"One of my favorite things about Cal State LA is the support from the faculty and staff—it’s absolutely unparalleled,” Gunaratne says. “You get real connections and the opportunity for connections to be made."
After graduation, Gunaratne plans to pursue a career as a communications and marketing professional in the media industry while also continuing to work to destigmatize mental health.