As North County’s education hub, San Marcos is building tomorrow’s workforce — and thanks to a new initiative, some of that homegrown talent is being channeled to help city staff better serve the community.
The City and Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM) recently joined forces to launch Democracy in Action, a pilot program that lets students spend a semester working on city projects.
“Some of the region’s brightest minds are on that campus, right down the street from City Hall, so this partnership felt like a natural win-win,” said Economic Development Manager Tess Radmill, who helped oversee the effort.
Over the past few months, about 100 students tackled projects that included: finding ways to curb unnecessary 911 calls; developing a marketing plan for the Double Peak Challenge race; analyzing data to help reduce stormwater pollution; and creating a promotional video about the city.
Already, the project has delivered tangible benefits. For example, students created a trash collection map that will help staff meet new environmental state guidelines. And the video produced by students is already being used to attract potential businesses and residents.
“We’re also graduating students who leave with a deeper understanding of a how a local community works — and with that, they can influence outcomes down the road,” explains Scott Gross, CSUSM associate vice president of Community Partnership Engagement.
Fostering civic-minded graduates is especially important to the region because many stay local after graduation. In fact, about 80 percent of CSUSM alumni continue living in the region. By comparison, about 60 percent of San Diego State University (SDSU) alumni stay local — and the same is true for only about 25 percent of University of California San Diego (UCSD) alumni.
Democracy in Action was inspired by the University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program — which works in largely the same way, but focuses on boosting sustainability. CSUSM liked the concept, but felt it was important to focus instead on civic engagement.
“We wanted students to realize they can inform and impact their local government,” Gross said. “They’re not just sitting in a classroom talking about theories—they’re actually putting their knowledge to work in a meaningful way, and their eyes light up.”
CSUSM student Kristina Kalchev is a testament to that.
“It was great working on a project that extends beyond an assignment and impacts people,” said Kalchev, who worked on the city’s promotional video. “I’m proud to include the video in my reel. I don’t feel so fresh out of the water now. I feel ready for the workforce.”
Kalchev plans to stay in San Marcos and earn her graduate degree while working locally. She says as a San Marcos resident, she now has a deeper appreciation for what the city does.
“We were able to see how much city staff does behind-the-scenes to keep our community safe. The project really opened my eyes to what local government does,” she said.
Storm Water Program Manager Reed Thornberry also saw a-ha moments happening when he took students out into the field.
“I wanted to take them beyond the data. A lot them live in San Marcos — some have even grown up here — but they’ve never explored our creek system,” he said. “They spotted bullfrogs, turtles and crawfish — entire ecosystems thriving. And seeing the impacts of trash, they got a sense of why they’re worth protecting. I think that drove home the mission.”
These students will be among the approximately 3,000 graduates CSUSM produces every year — which is partly why San Marcos is North County’s education hub. In fact, San Marcos is responsible for about 10 percent of the region’s total academic program completions.
“San Marcos is fueling a workforce pipeline that will strengthen our region for generations to come,” said San Marcos City Manager Jack Griffin. “But beyond that, our partnership with Cal State San Marcos underscores how we can collaborate to benefit our community, and we are proud of that.”
To learn more about the Democracy in Action program, visit www.csusm.edu/community/civiclearning/democracyinaction.html.
– Submitted press release