Mark Culliton '95

“I use my SOM network as often as I do those learned skills. I am very close to a handful of my classmates who I consider some of my best friends. A group of us have been getting together and traveling from one place or another for a number of years now. I lean on them when times are tough, be it at work, at home or otherwise. They are like brothers to me.” 

What have you been up to since Graduation (career, volunteer work, personally)?
Right after Yale, I went to San Francisco and worked briefly before my father got sick and I came back to spend the final months of his life with him. I then decided to stay in Boston and got my first job in Dorchester. It was also just after he died in 1996 that I re-met Mary DiCicco, a friend from high school who I later married and is my wife today. We have two boys ages 12 and 13. I worked for a private sector start up for a couple of years before my wife and I decided to move to Dorchester, Mass., a troubled but intriguing neighborhood. At the time, I had a life changing realization that education is the means to social justice, and I needed to join the fight. I don’t want to live in a world where a zip code can determine your future and that and education can change that. And so, for the past 15 years I have worked in inner-city education. For the last eight years, I have served as the Chief Executive Officer at College Bound Dorchester, a nonprofit organization that works to end systemic, generational urban poverty by bringing education to the toughest population of teens and young adults in Boston. I am also an active volunteer, serving on the board of Roxbury Community College, Boston Preparatory Public Charter School, Building Excellent Schools, Boston Youth Service Network, Massachusetts Association of Child Development Agencies, Bowdoin Geneva Alliance and the Lewis Family Foundation Community Advisory Group.

What impact has Yale SOM and being a member of the SOM community had on your life and career?
SOM changed my life. When I went to SOM, I thought the curriculum would teach me to manage- that was a huge mistake- but it taught me so much more. The first semester of my first year was the hardest of my academic life. On my first accounting exam, I received a 17. That is 17 out of 100! I had never been around a group of people like those I met at SOM. Not only were they all smarter than me, they also all worked harder. On top of that, I had been in Thailand for 3.5 years. Consequently, I was unfamiliar with Microsoft Excel, I couldn’t use a computer and hadn’t done math in nearly seven years. I was a mess and struggling. It was at this time, as I was drowning, that I learned what may be the most valuable lesson of my life. I cannot study alone. Rather, I need to be around people to create and learn. From that point on, I never studied alone; I always organized study groups and the like to make it through. It’s the same thing I do today. Beyond this, I use the skills of finance, accounting, statistics, and individual decision making every day of my life and wouldn’t be in this position without SOM. Of that I am certain.

SOM has also played a key part in the success of College Bound Dorchester as I have two classmates on my board, have hired another to develop our database and use two others as advisors on everything from hiring decisions to growth plans.

The school’s mission is to educate leaders for business and society, looking at your current career and interests, what does this mean to you?
I believe that I am living the legacy of our school. At College Bound Dorchester, we work to get students that the system has failed into and through community college. By doing this, College Bound is not only taking the hardest to reach young people off the streets, it is allowing them to turn their lives around and become positive role models for the rest of the community. Fifty years and 15 trillion dollars later, the war on poverty has failed and the neighborhoods that were troubled in 1965 remain that way today. The work I get to do with our students today is to break the cycle and create opportunity for all, finally. It seems like building leaders who can take on these issues and at least try to change the world is a core part of the mission of SOM. I am not saying we will get it done, but to prepare people to try is what SOM was and is about.

What drives you to do the type of work that you do?
Two things drive my work: frustration toward the current state of our country and our students.
We are living in a world where the likelihood of a black man getting shot is higher than the probability of him graduating from college. A country where being born in a certain zip code makes it three or four times more likely that you will drop out of high school, where there is a $30 million financial gap between the wealthiest and poorest families, where the average white family has $142,000 in wealth vs $18,000 for non-whites and where the path out of poverty is harder than ever. I don’t want to live in a country where this is true. It is an indictment of everything that we teach children as they grow up and yet it is the economy and the world that we perpetuate. Each day, I enter my office knowing the work I am doing is going to help change the world.

Secondly, I absolutely love my students. When folks see my students on the street they walk or run away. They avert their eyes and cross the street. Others see our students as gang bangers or drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes or criminals; lurking figures on street corners and in the back of classrooms disrupting the systems they inhabit. We see them for the genius within them and the possibility of greatness they possess. We see them as individuals exactly like the people who went to SOM or grew up in wealthy suburbs anywhere. They are us, but we treat them as they.

How/Why do you stay engaged with SOM as an alum?
I mainly stay engaged through my work with the alumni in the area. As I have noted, some of my most important business and personal relationships are with alumni. I have also sought advice and guidance from individuals, such as Berkeley School of Music President Roger Brown, a SOM alum. The alumni network in Boston is known as the “SOM Mafia” in non-profit circles, and it’s true. So many great leaders are in this space and are always willing to support one another.

Mark Culliton

Founder and CEO
College Bound Dorchester