Relentlessly smiling Boilermaker wins 2022 Tyler Trent Award

Eric Magallanes stands in front of the Tyler Trent Memorial Gate.

Eric Magallanes, winner of the 2022 Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award, stands in front of the Tyler Trent Memorial Gate at Ross-Ade Stadium. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Eric Magallanes embodies persistence even in the face of adversity

In honor of a remarkable Boilermaker who inspired us all, the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award recognizes Purdue students who show tenacity and determination despite the most daunting of challenges — students like Eric Magallanes. Magallanes has remained driven and extraordinarily optimistic, even when oral cancer threatened to derail his dreams of becoming a dentist.

Magallanes continued to pursue his education after his diagnosis. He co-founded a nonprofit called My Fellow Man when treatment forced him to step away from campus. He raised funds for the organization when his health prevented him from leaving his own home. Now, he’s back to finish his degree — and continue accomplishing his goals by working toward them daily.

“Tyler Trent’s legacy lives on through Eric,” says Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “We try to honor Tyler whenever we can and recognize Boilermakers who show his remarkable grit. Eric represents everything that this award stands for and the qualities that we hope grow in every Boilermaker during their Purdue years.”

In March 2019, Daniels unveiled the Tyler Trent Memorial Gate and announced the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award, a $5,000 scholarship in honor of Trent, a former Purdue student and super fan who became nationally known during his battle with cancer. Trent died on Jan. 1, 2019.

Since creating the scholarship, Daniels has recognized three previous award recipients, including Kyle Albertson in 2021, Kamryn Dehn in 2020 and Sean English in 2019. Each individual encountered serious physical or similarly daunting adversity in their pursuit of higher education. 

“These messages of hope resonate far beyond our campus,” Daniels said. “Tyler’s positivity and bravery have created an uplifting example for so many people facing their own obstacles.”

Trent’s courage inspired the world during his battle with cancer while at Purdue. Like Trent, Magallanes approaches life on campus with a focus on community and connection. And like Trent, Magallanes kept smiling even when his journey took the most unexpected turns.

Strong from the start

Magallanes’ time spent at Purdue was preceded by years of perseverance — he began pursuing a career in health care as a high schooler. The opportunities to care for communities and build relationships with patients inspire his path.

“I always wanted to help others,” Magallanes says. “I did an EMT program in high school and wanted a career where I could get to know patients over time.”

Magallanes is a first-generation college student and initially enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette. He earned his associate degree in dental assisting while interning at Allure Dental. The internship was so fulfilling that he went on to work as a dental assistant, meeting new people and increasing his understanding of his profession.

Enrollment at Purdue came next, where Magallanes chose to major in biomedical health sciences in the College of Health and Human Sciences in preparation for dental school. Between his classes, his role as a dental assistant and his job at Cook Biotech, busy days built toward a promising future.

“His dedication, earnestness and optimism are exceptional,” says Marybeth Miller, an instructional specialist in Purdue’s Department of Chemistry who met Magallanes through coordinating his course. “He has worked so hard for everything he has.”

Derailed dreams

In a terrible, ironic twist of fate, Magallanes noticed an unexpected sore in his mouth and asked a dentist — one of his very own mentors — to run tests. The results were life-changing. At the age of 22, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of oral cancer.

“I smiled at the dentist and said, ‘I got this,’” Magallanes says. “I told him, ‘It’ll be easy for me.’ It didn’t hit me until I went home and had to tell my mom. That’s when I saw her crying and realized it was serious.”

The severity of Magallanes’ condition led to a rapid series of treatments and surgeries. Days after his initial diagnosis, Magallanes underwent his first procedure. At first, he stayed in communication with his professors and tackled coursework when he could. However, his condition was only getting worse.

Magallanes was forced to step away from Purdue for chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries. Having to tell his professors that he would not be returning to class was his breaking point.

“I hadn’t shed a tear at all,” he says. “Not during my diagnosis, not when I told my family. Tears didn’t come until I had to go to the Office of the Dean of Students and tell them that I was withdrawing from Purdue for medical reasons. I think that hurt me the most. I sat down on a bench and just started crying.”

The motivated energy on campus, the learning opportunities in class, the dreams in progress — everything fell away and was replaced with a torturous new schedule. Procedures removed part of Magallanes’ tongue and 32 lymph nodes. He was unable to speak or eat for about eight months, communicating via writing on a whiteboard and getting nutrients through a feeding tube in his abdomen.

“I had to go through speech therapy in order to regain my ability to talk,” Magallanes says. “I love to talk and I love to eat, so it was a really hard journey. My family would be speaking, cooking and continuing their lives. I just had to keep my spirits up and know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Tears didn’t come until I had to go to the Office of the Dean of Students and tell them that I was withdrawing from Purdue for medical reasons. I think that hurt me the most.

Eric Magallanes
Senior, College of Health and Human Sciences

The fight for the future

Despite battling the cancer that was taking over his body, Magallanes found ways to support his community and connect with others. He started a nonprofit organization called My Fellow Man with another friend pursuing a career in health care. Together, they created hygiene packages with soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and informational fact sheets to teach the importance of hygiene. The kits are distributed to local people in need.

Even when Magallanes became homebound, he made soap from goats’ milk and raised money for My Fellow Man. The organization was able to give away over 500 hygiene kits.

Trent’s book, “The Upset,” became a pillar of strength for Magallanes. As he read about Trent’s tremendous fight and optimistic outlook, he noted impactful passages and inspirational quotes.

“Everything Tyler wrote about, I could relate to,” says Magallanes. “We’ve had so many things in common, from types of radiation and chemotherapy to all that we’ve felt throughout these journeys.”

Magallanes and Trent both sought to live life to the fullest and stay connected with others, even in the face of critical adversity. The two have demonstrated what it means to be a Boilermaker: a person who builds a better world by overcoming challenges and championing collaboration.  

“Eric has a magnetic personality, charming smile and real resolve to continue progress at Purdue,” Miller says. “He battled cancer while still maintaining the heart that he has to help others.”

Eric Magallanes

Everything Tyler wrote about, I could relate to. We’ve had so many things in common, from types of radiation and chemotherapy to all that we’ve felt throughout these journeys.

Eric Magallanes Senior, College of Health and Human Sciences

Overcoming the odds

Magallanes is now back on campus after doctors declared him to be in remission. He can be found in a lab, working toward his dream of becoming a dentist — or spending time pursuing his other involvements, including volunteering with LTHC Homeless Services as well as developing Antonio’s Mowing, a landscaping business he operates alongside his father. The strength and persistence that Magallanes has shown throughout his experiences are propelling him into a promising future — one that honors Trent’s unforgettable legacy.

In his book, Trent writes: “Smiling is a way to show what I am feeling or choosing a way to transfer these feelings to other people, too. During my cancer treatments, I had smiled a lot less. I set out to make up for lost time.”

Magallanes feels the same way. “I’m thrilled,” Magallanes says with a smile. “I’m back on my feet and ready to keep helping others and making improvements in the world.”