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Following in the Footsteps: The Mallinger Family Legacy

On the first day of Dr. Jennifer Mallinger’s career as a student at Southern California College of Optometry, her goal was to lay low. She had no intention of using to her advantage the fact that her father was Dr. Joseph Mallinger, one of SCCO’s most accomplished alumni.

Jennifer was, after all, reluctant to follow in her father’s footsteps at first, applying to only one optometry college — not SCCO — with only one back-up plan, which was to continue her career as a manager at Chili’s Grill & Bar if she didn’t get in. When the first application did not work out, her father convinced her to give SCCO a try, irrespective of how promising her career at Chili’s might have been. He had a hunch based on his own experiences that his daughter would thrive in SCCO’s small, student and service-centered atmosphere.

Eventually, Jennifer very genuinely came to agree with this line of thinking, but she was also determined to be her own person and to succeed at SCCO on her own merits. She had support in this aspiration from her best friend, Julie Anthony-Arcemont, who was remarkably in the same position: Julie’s father was also an extremely accomplished optometrist, Dr. Jack Anthony, President of the California Board of Optometry at that time. So, there they sat in the back row, as anonymous as any of their other classmates, when, as Jennifer puts it: “The very first day, a professor said, ‘We’d like Jennifer Mallinger and Julie Anthony to stand up!’ And they explained in detail to all of our classmates exactly who our fathers were! I suppose it was good to rip off the Band-Aid all at once!”


Mallinger Family PhotoVery quickly, Jennifer began to truly appreciate the fact that, since she was a future optometrist, her father’s profound influence on the profession was one more gift he was giving to her. In this way, it is technically true that she did use her father to her advantage.

It is also true of many members of the Mallinger family. Their legacy at SCCO extends from Joseph to his daughter Jennifer; Joseph’s niece, Dr. Leah Mallinger; and his grandson and Jennifer’s son, Brandon Young. Each of them has forged a career in optometry — or in Brandon’s case, begun one — that is grounded in values such as hard work, compassion and service to the profession, and they all exemplify the exceptional alumni for which SCCO is so well-known.

When called upon, Joseph has always been a calming and encouraging presence for his daughter Jennifer, his niece Leah, and now his grandson Brandon, who is a first-year. Jennifer and Leah recall his mantra from the particularly difficult early years of optometry school, “You’re smart enough to get yourself in, so you’re smart enough to get yourself out.” He knew what they were capable of and, of course, given his long and successful career, no one knew better what the profession would demand of them. From the moment he graduated as a part of the last class before SCCO moved to its Fullerton campus, Joseph Mallinger has had one mission: to promote the profession of optometry through his extensive advocacy, nonprofit and MBKU board member work.


Joseph’s grandson Brandon Young was the rare kid who felt no embarrassment whatsoever when his mom called out “I love you!” in front of his friends while dropping him off at school. He’d respond just as loudly that he loved her more. So, it seems that it would make sense that he would choose an optometry school known for its family culture, where his own family had a prominent legacy. It wasn’t so simple, however. Brandon took great care in choosing where to study optometry, applying to and interviewing at multiple schools.

Growing up, he had spent a lot of time in his parents’ first practice, so he was immersed in optometry from a young age and developed a genuine interest in the profession, which evolved as he became old enough to actually work for his parents. It did not truly blossom until he spent time as a technician in a small practice co-owned by a father and daughter in Colorado while he was in college at CU Boulder. There, his passion for vision care and the impact that he could have on patients decisively confirmed the notion that he was driven by a calling outside of his parents’ influence – as positive as that influence was.

As soon as Brandon interviewed at SCCO, it all came together, and during the opening week BBQ, he had a moment when he realized that he was following in the literal footsteps of his grandfather, mother and aunt. “Interviewing at the other schools and then at SCCO, I got to talk to the professors, see the equipment, and get a real vibe of what the campuses were like, and what the next four years would look like,” says Brandon. “And it came down to two things: family and culture. The campus culture is like a family. SCCO is a school run on connection, and on trying to get you to become the best OD that you can be, and then to practice to the highest of your capability and knowledge. And it’s been surreal so far, being in the footsteps of where my parents were, and where my grandfather was, and where Leah was, at a program that is never trying to push us away, but always trying to pull us in and set us up for success.”


Jennifer now owns Mallinger Family Eyecare, a fitting name for her practice, as she has never departed from that guiding principle. She and the optometrists who work with her – which includes her longtime friend Dr. Julie Anthony-Arcemont – are very intentional about how they care for their patients. “I just had a new patient this week who told me, ‘I picked you because you have the word ‘family’ in your practice’s name,’” says Jennifer. “One of the things my dad told me was ‘You’ll never need to advertise if you’re really good and genuine and kind.’ That’s what happened. Patients feel like they’re a part of my family practice, and I love that. I’ve had patients for 25 years, and I get to watch their children grow up. I truly feel like they’re a part of my family.” One such patient is a former, regular from the aforementioned job at Chili’s. She promised him she’d be an eye doctor, and to look her up. He did, and he’s been Jennifer’s patient ever since.


Joseph, Jennifer and Brandon were all in attendance at the hooding ceremony of Leah Mallinger when she completed her optometry degree at SCCO in 2008, a moment she recalls with great pride. There was no question for Leah: SCCO was her dream school, and she fully capitalized on the support she was able to draw from her uncle and cousin. Leah runs the dry eye clinic at a private group practice in Arizona, and her success, just like the rest of the family’s, serves as a testament to the tremendous education they have received at Southern California College of Optometry.Dr. Jennifer Mallinger

As for the man who started it all, and did so much for the school, the profession, and his own family, Joseph Mallinger couldn’t be prouder. He and Jennifer always encouraged Leah, and Leah looks forward to joining them in providing all the support Brandon will ever need. “My family is so awesome and encouraging,” says Leah. “My uncle or cousin never suggested I should do things a certain way because of my last name. At no point during my time at SCCO or since has my family ever been anything less than loving and supportive, always encouraging each of us to continue to give the best care for our patients and to never be afraid to practice to the full scope each state allows. My hope is we will continue to show Brandon that optometry is an incredibly rewarding profession we all love and enjoy, and watch him continue the legacy.”