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CSUSM student-led collaboration with city focused on tackling issues

SAN MARCOS — Cal State San Marcos students have embarked on a program aimed at bringing more volunteers to the city of San Marcos, university and city officials said today.

The city and university recently introduced the Democracy in Action program in which student groups tackle city issues. Unlike an internship, students are not given direction. Instead, like consultants, students make research-based recommendations.

Their first project: bolstering volunteer numbers at the San Marcos Senior Activity Center, which serves about 7,000 seniors per month.

About 30 students developed strategies to attract additional volunteers to the center. Recommendations include creating a formal orientation process, designing additional marketing materials and identifying missed opportunities to recruit volunteers.

Democracy in Action shows students how classroom knowledge applies to the outside world, said CSUSM adjunct faculty member Eliza Bigham, who oversaw the students under the university’s Department of Human Development.

“Working with city staff and meeting with elected officials required my students to try something new and go outside their comfort zone. But I can’t tell you how many of them thanked me for the opportunity to grow through this experience,” she said. “They discovered that their skill set is so completely beneficial to address real, current needs in their own community.”

City staff are fine-tuning the volunteer-acquisition strategies, which should be introduced in the next few months.

Volunteers who lead activities as well as work the front desk and computer lab of the senior center are integral to the facility’s success, city Parks and Recreation Manager Brenda Sylvia said. They allow the center to offer services at lower costs, which benefits seniors on fixed incomes.

Going forward, Democracy in Action could impact additional city departments, Sylvia said.

“As North County’s education hub, San Marcos is fortunate to have plenty of bright young minds that offer a fresh perspective — something we greatly value here at the city,” she said. “Well-run cities with engaged residents lead to vibrant, thriving communities. If we want that to continue in San Marcos, we need to connect with our next generation of leaders and Democracy in Action is helping us do that.”

For more information on CSUSM’s Democracy in Action, watch this video: