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USD Nonprofit Students' Class Project Becomes State Law

(LINDA VISTA) Most graduate level courses at the University of San Diego have some component that requires students to work together on a project to explore an issue or solve a problem. Rarely, however, does that project become California law.

That was the case for students in an Advocacy class taken last year through the School of Leadership and Education Sciences' Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research. They identified a problem, saw the big picture and moved into action to get it resolved. That meant enlisting the help of elected area officials, lobbying at the state capitol, and eventually, witnessing the passage of Senate Bill 167, which allows the state to dedicate funds to prevent cross-border tire pollution.

Along the way, students had to learn what it takes to author a bill, pass it through the California legislature and get it signed by the governor.

“I pitched the tire idea one evening to the rest of the class and it stuck,” said Ben McCue, a student in the program. “Working along the San Diego-Tijuana border region, I was always impressed by the number of discarded automobile tires. They are everywhere. Sometimes they serve functional purposes, as in foundations for houses or erosion control, but more often they have negative impacts.”

McCue manages the border program for WiLDCOAST, a local environmental nonprofit agency in Imperial Beach. He’s seen tires that literally blanket the Tijuana River Valley. With a little research, the students discovered the root of the problem. They found that millions of used tires from California are exported to Mexico every year, however many wash back into San Diego during storms.

“The environmental, health and economic impacts of this tire cycle are giant,” McCue said. “We found that as Californians, we often pay up to three times to dispose of a single tire.”

McCue worked with fellow students Adina Veen, Jennifer Martin, Benny Cartwright, and Maureen Guarcello on the project. They called it Breaking the Tire Cycle.

As a result of their efforts, The Border Tire Bill, authored by Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, allows California to use funds collected for tire recycling on reuse, mitigation and education projects in Mexico with a goal to end pollution by thousands of used tires each year.

McCue said it was empowering for students see their coursework put into action.

“It is incredible to think that our class assignment was signed into law,” he said. “For me, the big take-away is a deeper understanding of our democratic process and our ability, as citizens, to effect change. To me, the Advocacy class represents what the University of San Diego is all about: applying theory to real-life challenges and creating change.”