Wallace said she was impressed by how bipartisan the state legislature worked. Victorian Tonikian | Courtesy Photo

After nine months of crafting legislation for the state of California, a class of Cal Poly students saw their textbook affordability bill on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, signed into law August 27.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2385, written by Cal Poly students and sponsored by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, encourages textbook publishers to provide a detailed description of the changes between each edition on their website. The intent is to allow students to decide if buying the newest, most expensive edition of a textbook is necessary. Students can see whether there were major changes to the text or if they could potentially save hundreds of dollars by buying a previous, cheaper version that is nearly identical to the new edition.

“We figured textbooks would be a good place to start because it’s something that, no matter your major, we all have to buy, they’re always really expensive, and it seemed like a feasible, tangible idea that we could do that affected everyone,” political science alumnus Lindsey Wallace said.

The class was taught by political science professor Chris Den Hartog and advised by former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.

The idea came out of a casual lunch between university President Jeffrey Armstrong and Achadjian, who graduated from Cal Poly in 1976 with a degree in business administration.

“I always enjoyed Learn by Doing,” Achadjian said. “When I graduated and after I finished my term as an assemblyman, I had all this free time on my hands. I said, ‘What about give something back to Cal Poly?’”

Achadjian used his six years of experience in the state assembly to teach Cal Poly students to put their emotions aside when drafting their bill. He guided them through the bill process and taught them that, even with all the data and information they could muster, they still have to connect with the politicians at the end of the day.

“With [Achadjian], he kind of taught us that it’s not always about the facts. Sometimes you have to make those personal connections with people and you have to remember you’re working with people, so you have to approach things with different perspectives,” Wallace said.

The former assemblyman plans to continue advising students interested in drafting bills, although Cunningham said he and Sen. Bill Monning may trade off carrying the bill into the legislature.

“I feel absolutely elated,” political science alumnus Victoria Tonikian said.

Tonikian participated in the program the entire way through. She said that working with Cunningham’s staff to quickly edit new drafts of the bill and finally getting it chaptered gave her an educational experience beyond what most universities have to offer.

In April, Tonikian traveled with members of her class to give testimony to the Assembly Standing Committee on Education in Sacramento and met staffers to lobby for the bill.

“It was one of my proudest days this year in the assembly,” Cunningham said. “When I got to see, it was about 20-something students came up from Poly, and then a smaller group, in a different time, came up and presented the bill in the first committee. They got to testify for it. That’s something they’re going to remember the rest of their lives. Hopefully that really sticks with them.”

Tonikian said she was thankful for everyone who put the class together, including Hartog, Achadjian, Cunningham, Director of Government Relations for Cal Poly Justin Wellner and Keegan Koberl from Cunningham’s office.

Wallace credited her admittance to a graduate program in public administration at Washington University to the bill because, she said, it gave her an experience that you cannot get anywhere else.

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