Terri McCullough (Oakes '91, Politics)

photo of terri mccullough

Terri McCullough says that lessons from her
education at UC Santa Cruz still stick with her
today. "Santa Cruz is the place where I learned
about building coalitions and building communities."

Background: As the daughter of a letter carrier whose pension provided vital family support, and as a first-generation college graduate who received federal financial aid, McCullough has a keen appreciation for the role of government in people's everyday lives. 

McCullough chose UC Santa Cruz because she felt "an alignment with the philosophy and ethos of the university." 

"I will never be able to explain the incredible impact my experience at Oakes had on me. To meet so many different people from so many life experiences was an awakening," said McCullough, who was raised in San Rafael. 

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake brought the Oakes community together under trying circumstances. McCullough, a neighborhood assistant that year, recalled the responsibility she felt for her fellow students.

"We slept on the big grassy field behind Oakes that night, because we were all so worried about aftershocks. We were so afraid," she said. "It forged a bond with so many of us. We all relied on each other so deeply."

McCullough took a range of classes and dabbled in acting before she discovered the Politics Department. "Dan Wirls's U.S. politics class was the jumping off point for me," she recalled. "He taught in a really insightful way." Then, laughing, she added: "Of course, there's academic exposure, and the actual exposure here in Washington, and the one never really prepares you for the other."

Still, her years on campus made more than lasting memories.

"Santa Cruz is the place where I learned about building coalitions and building communities," she said. "That is something I'll never forget. The power of building community has informed everything."

Read More

Watch More

A conversation with Terri McCullough, chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, in memory of Gabe Zimmerman