What do you do when there are so many projects and not enough manpower to accomplish them? That was the big question in the City of Lemon Grove, and the answer was collaboration with students at San Diego State University through the Sage Project.

Sage Project: for City and Students

The Sage Project is a collaborative learning endeavor and grant program designed to give college students the on-the-job training and experience they need to succeed while working with public agencies. Many college and universities utilize this or similar models to collaborate with local communities, both in California and across the nation. 

In this case, the City of Lemon Grove had multiple city-wide projects and not enough in the budget to accomplish them. Mike James, Public Works Director with the City, took the lead as the City’s liaison to the project, working with Jessica Barlow, Sage Program Coordinator at San Diego State University. Great things came from this partnership: everything from city beautification to addressing homelessness to climate planning.

Attainable Goals

The City of Lemon Grove had many projects in the works but didn’t have the staff resources to accomplish them. By teaming up with the SDSU students through the Sage Project, City goals were achieved in the areas of Climate, Health and Social Issues, Urban Panning & Development, Infrastructure, Public Spaces, and Public Art and Image Development. Multiple City departments got involved in the process.

“From SDSU, there were 19 faculty members, 31 classes, and 12 disciplines that participated in the solutions for the City,” James explained. “From the City, a representative from every department met with professors and students” to facilitate the projects.

The City received over 40,000 hours of work to supplement staff’s work, accomplishing the City Council’s goals and objectives.

“It really wasn’t difficult to get people involved because everyone involved knew that the volunteer hours would help the City while also providing a professional development opportunity to the students from SDSU,” said James. “And this really was a win-win opportunity that both sides of the partnership benefited from.”


On-the-job training is just that: training. Certain projects were not a “good fit” for students. But by working with the Sage Project Coordinator, James and the City were able to talk with professors and learn more about the skills of the students. Communication from all sides lead to a collaborative project, meeting both the goals of the City and the learning goals of the students.

“By having discussions with key players, the City was able to understand the capabilities of the students and create reasonable attainable goals that each party could be proud of!” James said.

Risk Transfer and Community Engagement

A plus for Lemon Grove was the transfer of risk. Liability was transferred away from the City and back onto the Sage Project through the contract with the University. For the students, they were able to learn, gain real world experiences, and use their education in meaningful, community-centered ways.


Lemon Grove’s partnership with the Sage Project received the 2018 EAGLE Award for Innovation in Implementation of a Best Practice.

View some of the great City projects accomplished by the students of San Diego State University! Want more information? Contact staff.