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Taking on the job of dad, FAR steers dozens to success

Thomas Bullock’s oldest children have advanced degrees and are now lawyers, engineers and academics. The youngest are just now escaping the gravity of tough social circumstances in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.

When he meets new people, he likes to tell them about his children – all 30 of them – and the extraordinary paths they are pursuing in life.

Bullock first met these children when they were still in middle school, living under strained social circumstances and identified as the least likely to graduate. Since taking an interest in their lives and helping them discover potential they had overlooked, these more than two dozen young people now look to Bullock, the faculty athletic representative at the University of the District of Columbia, as a parent. He takes them on camping trips and international adventures and opens their eyes to a world they have never seen.

“For a young person that comes from disadvantaged backgrounds, the No. 1 deal breaker is a caring adult in their life,” Bullock said. “And so I take on that role.”

The number of lives that have been changed by those efforts extends well beyond the 30 who look to Bullock as a father. The Georgetown Institute of College Preparation that Bullock established two decades ago now has six full-time employees and a half-dozen graduate students who have helped hundreds of D.C.’s disadvantaged youths become academic stars.

They came to the program because difficult social and economic situations had given them less than a 50 percent chance of graduating high school. But nearly every student who completes Georgetown’s program goes on to graduate, and more than 90 percent advance to postsecondary education.

“And I don’t have the numbers yet of those who have doctorate degrees, law degrees, master’s in engineering,” Bullock said.

His knack for landing multimillion-dollar grants got that success story started. But it was Bullock’s approach to education that changed lives. He would step into the city’s most troubled schools and identify the seventh-graders most in need. And while he might start with improving their study habits, he would also take them skiing, hiking or bicycling – activities they had never had a chance to experience – in addition to supporting them academically.

By high school, the kids were traveling to South America to practice their Spanish skills among native speakers and participate in science projects in the rain forests. Bullock could see the experiences reshaping their lives.

“I asked the question, ‘What is it that a Georgetown University student as a whole had in their upbringing?’” Bullock said. “And I found there was research, there was visiting other countries. … And that was really how I chose to design the curriculum. So the students have been to Ecuador, Belize, Costa Rica. … It’s transformative for students.”

Bullock no longer works with the center, but his mission continues as a math professor at the District of Columbia.

He purchased a home to house some of the kids he mentors — paid from his own pocket — and continues to seek out students who are most in need of support and guidance. In fact, he became the faculty athletic representative at the university after working with one of its student-athletes, which led several more to seek him out.

After two decades, the success stories among Bullock’s “adopted” children are numerous, from directors of major parks departments to lawyers working with youth organizations. Those who have worked with Bullock expect the list to grow.

“He’ll be helping kids as long as he’s alive,” said Dennis Williams, Georgetown’s associate dean of students and director of the Center of Multicultural Equity and Access. “It’s just something about him. … He has this genuine loving, caring spirit.”