Close-up of Casey Cullen smiling in front of a splatter painting with bright yellows and oranges

Worcester State alum Casey Cullen earns Fulbright, Library of Congress grant, and new state appointment

March 23, 2023
By: Rebecca Cross

Casey Cullen ’06 has always been interested in civics. In the 15 years since becoming a social studies teacher at Westborough High School, he has embarked on several projects with real-world applications. Among his accomplishments are helping to rewrite the Massachusetts frameworks for social studies in 2016 and lobbying in 2018 for a bill to enhance civic education, resulting in $2 million funding for civic action projects.

Now, Cullen is taking on three big projects at once. In the last two years, he has been the recipient of a Fulbright Award and a Library of Congress grant and was recently appointed to the Massachusetts Special Commission on the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution.

Cullen had been trying to build global citizenship education programs for several years, so he applied and won a Fulbright, the US government’s flagship international educational exchange program. The award allowed him, along with a cohort of educators around the country, to receive training in 2022 to strengthen his skills in teaching global education. He will be traveling to India this summer to meet with educators and spend a month teaching in a school there.

He sees this as an opportunity to grow his global network even further and develop a program of global citizenship. More importantly, he sees this as a chance to relate better to his students back home. Westborough school district has a 33 percent Asian population, and many of the students in his classroom are from India. “Any time you’re able to make connections with students, you improve your efficacy as a teacher,” he said. “This experience will pay dividends that I don’t even know yet.”

Cullen is also leading a three-year project funded by a $255,000 Library of Congress grant. The project, Accessing Inquiry for English Learners, aims to make primary documents more accessible to students whose first language isn’t English.

Cullen conceived of the project when he noticed that students from other countries in his classes were struggling to learn the American civic system because of language barriers. He hopes that, by helping these students improve their English language skills, teachers can help their students become critical consumers of media. This will give students the ability to access primary documents and form their own thoughts about them.

“That’s a skill that can stick with them even as the media shifts,” Cullen said. “I want all students to have those conversations. I do not want to have a student who does not have the English language skills yet to be left out of that conversation.”

Most recently, Cullen has been appointed by the state of Massachusetts to the Special Commission on the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution. He will be developing programs for the lead-up to the July 4, 2026 celebrations. Much of his work will be focused on Massachusetts’ role in the conflict and on elevating underrepresented perspectives, including those of women, native peoples, and people of color.

He hopes to involve Worcester State in some of these events. He has had a connection to the university since he was a child, when his father started coaching football there. He later attended Worcester State and became a football coach there. He hopes to organize an undergraduate history conference at Worcester State focused on the Revolutionary War. “I would love to offer that opportunity to undergrads,” he said, “especially in Worcester because there’s so much great Revolutionary War history that took place in Worcester.”

If Cullen’s past endeavors are any indication, his new projects will produce long-term benefits. Just this month, in the most recent Civic Learning Week—one of the programs created out of the 2018 bill he lobbied for—students met over Zoom with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. 

The projects represent a lot of extra work for the full-time teacher and dad, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “We all try to effect change in our own personal way in this world, and this is the way I can do it,” he said. “I’m not going to paint another Mona Lisa. I’m not going to write the most beautiful song in the world, but hopefully, I can help students understand the world a little better.”

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