From prison to Ph. D student: Former inmate now teaches in Valley prisons

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- From prison to Ph. D, a Valley native is making a difference in his community.

Merced College teacher Cory Mccullough doesn't have your typical classroom.

"We go into the prison and offer degrees," said Mccullough. "It looks just like a classroom until you look up and see the barbed wire."

McCullough teaches math at two Valley prisons as part of Merced College's Rising Scholars program, but it's not his first time in a correctional facility. The Los Banos native got mixed up in drugs and alcohol at a young age.

"Every night, I would drink whiskey by myself as a high school student," said Mccullough.

Kicked out of high school and struggling to keep down a job, Mccullough turned to harder drugs. He tried a rehab program and even got sober, but it didn't last. Eventually, he began funding his addiction by stealing.

"I got my first felony charge and became a convicted felon," said Mccullough

That's when he realized it was time to turn his life around.

McCullough went back to school, taking part in Merced College's addiction studies program, and learning for the first time about the root of addiction and steps toward recovery.

From there he transferred to UC Merced, graduating in 2019 with a bachelor's in mathematics and then setting his sights on a Ph.D., but being a full-time student gets costly.

"I have six kids," said Mccullough. "Six kids are a lot. I needed to make more money so I thought, 'Why not apply to Merced College?'"

He was quickly recruited to teach for the Rising Scholars program, helping those behind bars further their education.

"We believe in giving students an opportunity to work and get the experience they need," said Director of Student Success Tomasia Drummond. "We're extremely proud of him -- we've told him that many times and we use Cory as one of our success stories."

Now in his second semester, McCullough is hoping to help give these inmates the same chance he had.

"It's been really interesting to just relate to these students on a deep level," said Mccullough. "I've had a few students come to me and tell me you've inspired us."

McCullough hopes to finish his Ph.D. by 2024.
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