San Marcos,
12:32 PM

Students Make a Difference in Community through ‘Democracy in Action’

By David Ogul

Talk about getting involved.

Thanks to a new Democracy in Action initiative launched this year at Cal State San Marcos, scores of students spent the spring semester working with the city of San Marcos on endeavors that included strategies to reduce the number of unwarranted 911 calls and capitalizing on revenue-generating opportunities for the annual Double Peak Challenge.

“I’m excited about the project and the possibilities,” said Laurette McGuire, Faculty Director for Civic Learning. “Local cities have a need but may not have the resources to carry them out. We have an abundance of students with energy. It’s a great partnership.”

Democracy in Action is modeled after a similar effort at the University of Oregon called the Sustainable City Year Program in which governments and nonprofits needing support and technical assistance tap the talents of college students to carry out their projects. Students are matched with an agency for an entire year, with work focusing on projects related to sustainable initiatives.

Students, faculty and staff spent several months developing the CSUSM endeavor before the pilot project was initiated this spring. Nearly 100 CSUSM students in four separate courses were involved.

Three dozen students in Dr. Vassilis Dalakas’ Sports Marketing and Sponsorship course were among those taking part. They were tasked with developing ideas to market the Double Peak Challenge, which includes a 10K Challenge timed race, a 5K run/walk, and a 200 meter kids’ Trail Trot.

Students looked at the demographics of those attending the 2016 event and found the average age was 38, the median household income was $116,000, and some 70 percent of participants were female. That translates into potentially prime marketing dollars, and students developed various sponsorship packages for business. A $10,000 package, for example, would buy a company-provided full-page advertisement in the event program, company logos on the event’s webpage and T-shirts, public service announcements, company mentions in event email blasts, and mile marker mentions for both the 5K and 10K events. The company name could also be included in the event title.

“The entire experience was a perfect fit for the students in our sports marketing program,” Dalakas said. “It provided our students with invaluable practical experience that can help them find jobs and apply the skills they’ve learned once they start working. Working with the city also makes it more meaningful.”

Meanwhile, students in the Capstone in the Social Sciences course were busy tackling strategies to reduce the number of unwarranted 911 calls by analyzing data on habitual users of emergency medical services. Under the direction of Associate Professor Dr. Matthew Atherton, the class constructed a game plan focused on education and alternative options more appropriate to their needs. This would reduce the burden on paramedics and emergency room personnel, allowing them to focus their efforts on true emergencies and thus reduce waiting room and response times.

“Democracy in Action has been a perfect vehicle for students to apply the knowledge they have gained throughout their college experience into a tangible project,” Atherton said. “Since the goal of the Social Science Capstone course is for students to demonstrate what they have learned up until this point, being able to do this on a real social issue has been powerful for students.”

A third project involved students in Dr. Robert Brown’s Public Economy course addressing the challenge of rubbish flowing into the region’s waterways. That effort included GIS/mapping analysis and reviewing street sweeping and storm drain cleaning data. From there, students identified the biggest sources of litter flowing into lakes, creeks and ponds, followed by mapping out potential educational outreach efforts.

And Jonathan Berman’s Video Art History and Theory students put their talents and knowledge to use in producing a marketing video highlighting the amenities San Marcos offers to prospective businesses, visitors and residents. The video, which will be screened before the City Council this summer, is part of a rebranding effort that emphasizes San Marcos’ standing as the educational hub of North County and the center of a diverse, thriving economy.

“Democracy in Action provides a direct connection between education and solving real problems while underscoring both the city’s and Cal State San Marcos’ commitment to community partnerships,” said San Marcos City Manager Jack Griffin.

Plans call for Democracy in Action to involve additional cities and nonprofits in the coming years.

“The pilot semester was enlightening,” said Dr. Scott Gross, Associate Vice President for Community Engagement. “We did some great work and we learned important lessons to help refine the program for the coming semesters.”