Growing up in New York with his mom and grandfather, Rich Mullin wasn't someone who placed a high value on education. After his life took many unexpected twists and turns, he has come to appreciate the significance of a college degree, and is now using his story to convince others to take the plunge.
Mullin moved with friends to New Port Richey at the age of 16, looking for a change of pace. When his friends returned to New York the following year, he decided to stay. "After that, life basically took over,'' says Mullin. He worked odd jobs here and there, staying with new friends just to scrape by.
One thing led to another, and eventually he found himself homeless, living out of his Nissan for several months. "I wasn't working at all. I hit rock bottom,'' he says. Just when he was able to get back on his feet, a motorcycle accident left him bedridden for three months and ultimately laid off from his job.
It was the injury and recovery experience that led to a transformation, causing him to take a long, hard look at where he was going. "I had some friends who were pretty successful -- they seemed to have different lifestyles than I did,'' says Mullin. The common denominator? They all went to college.
Mullin enrolled in Pasco-Hernando Community College
in 2008 at the age of 32 and has not looked back. He applied for federal student aid online
and received Pell grants as well as student loans. While also working fulltime at a local spine center, he maintained a full class load and recently graduated with an A.A. degree and a 3.95 GPA.
"It was tough, I'm not going to lie,'' says Mullin. There was a time early in his studies when he started second-guessing what he was doing. He sought advice from Professor Connie Frankel at PHCC, who pushed him to keep going, saying he would be doing himself a disservice if he stopped. "It was what I needed to hear at the time, and I stuck it out.''
Mullin is now taking additional classes to obtain an economics degree. When asked what he wants to do with his life, he says he imagines working the front office in a sports franchise. But what he really wants, he says, is just to help others.
"Since I've been in school, I've taken the approach of trying to give back to people,'' says Mullin. He has a strong passion for encouraging people to finish school, or to go back if they aren't happy with what they're doing. "When I see people kind of drifting around, I point out to them what I've been through, that I've been in their shoes.''
Mullin shared his story at his college commencement ceremony, and continues to inspire others in the community. As a volunteer basketball and football coach at Elfers Christian School,
he has an opportunity to meet youth and convince them to enter dual enrollment or get a GED if they didn't finish high school. "Just take it step by step, and get in there,'' advises Mullin.
Megan Hendricks is a Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.