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Chico State

Distinguished Alumni and Corporate Partner Stuart Casillas

Black and white photo illustration of Stuart Casillas with the words: 2024 Distinguished Alumni Honoree

In life and business, Stuart Casillas understands the importance of simple details: respectful communication, following through on promises, and giving back to the next generation. “It’s all about being a positive influence in every situation, knowing that you’re representing yourself as much as your clients,” said Casillas. Now a mergers and acquisitions partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s San Francisco office, representing a swath of the nation’s most renowned private equity firms, he credits his time at Chico State as a critical jump-start to this point.

Casillas was already navigating a variety of business environments while earning his bachelor’s degree in economics—learning to be effective in a large organization with many moving parts. Treating his undergrad years as a literal training ground, he took on multiple jobs on and off campus and made connections between lessons in the classroom and the world beyond. This included working as an assistant in the economics department for then-Provost Scott McNall and a rich variety of telemarketing and research jobs with Professor Emeritus Frederica Shockley. Each of these opportunities provided new audiences to hone his skills and become a better relationship builder and communicator.

“These experiences gave me insight into how different business environments worked,” said Casillas (Economics, Business Administration, ’96). “It really taught me not to be solely focused on a task at hand, but rather concerned with how everything fits with the overall goals of the organization. That’s something from my time at Chico State I still draw from today.” 

Building on this solid foundation, Casillas went on to law school and entered The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law where he received his Juris Doctor in 1999. All roads ultimately led back to California, where he has built his career and raised a family. Casillas has also generously given his time to Chico State, serving on the University Foundation Board. He is a past chair of the board and is currently the chair of the development and advocacy committee.

Today, the University is thrilled to turn the spotlight on him as one of 2024’s class of Distinguished Alumni.

What advice would you give students today?

Lean into your classes. This opportunity is not just about checking a box and taking the required number of classes to graduate. You have to try to get yourself into the material and get the most out of it. Each class can teach you something different—and it might not be obvious to you at the time, but it could prove to be useful down the road. Most of the classes that I took at Chico State have helped me become the person that I am today. It’s just a really wonderful place and a great time to be exposed to everybody on campus. Professors included, because of their wealth of knowledge. They have a lot of life experience, coming from diverse backgrounds with different viewpoints to apply to the subject matter. It’s an opportunity to gain some wisdom from these folks along the way, and that’s priceless.

What does it mean to be named a Distinguished Alumni?

I am very honored by the recognition. You know, there are lots of folks that have come through Chico State who have gone on to do great things in the world and be great representatives and ambassadors for Chico State. I’m just really proud and honored to be amongst that group of folks.

What was your favorite place on campus during your years as a student?

It’s hard to pick one place. For me, it was spending time down by the creek. You get an appreciation for nature there, and that’s huge while working through studies and processing everything going on. There’s a lot that happens, both intellectually and emotionally and in your life during that period. And being down by the creek, I got to reflect on everything and concentrate on things that were most important. But, in general, I really just like being around the campus and in the town because it’s such a welcoming place for students and a really great place to learn and grow up.

With all the rigors of work, what is something you do that brings you joy?

Traveling within the US and internationally has been a great release for myself and for my family. Just being able to see different parts of the world and appreciate differences in the way people live is an amazing gift that teaches you a lot. We’ve found that people are generally great, despite differences in the way we all live our lives on a surface level; at our core, we’re all fundamentally good. I think that’s been a valuable lesson for me, but also to teach my kids that embracing all of life’s differences is worthwhile.