A team of UC Merced undergraduates are studying the relationships developing between U.S. cities and states and those in foreign countries for the U.S. Department of State.
The students, also members of the UC Merced Pre-Law Society, were in lecturer Mark Harris' introductory course on business law last semester and have decided to continue their research outside of the classroom. Together, they've formed a research group to study this phenomenon in foreign relations, known as subnational relationships. Each of the four students in the group is studying a different geographic area: South America, North America, Asia and Africa.
Jason Knight, a management major who participated in commencement last week, said more and more cities and states have begun developing relationships with foreign cities and states, creating quasi-official foreign policy. He said the U.S. Constitution dictates that it's the federal government's responsibility to decide foreign policy, but the government has seen that subnational relationships can be helpful and hasn't intervened.
Harris, a lawyer, was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to serve as deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce. The students in the group are Knight, Elias Martinez, Medya Aghaansari and Camelia Moher.
Many of the partnerships have been related to climate change, Knight explained. C40 Cities is an initiative by cities across the world — including Athens, Bangkok and Los Angeles — to tackle climate change. Last fall, the R20 — a consortium of states and provinces — was formed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Knight, Woodland Hills in Southern California, arrived at UC Merced planning to be a mechanical engineer, but switched to management. He plans to go to law school after a break from school. He's applying to the State Department to work as a foreign service officer.
He wants to increase the campus' visibility on the international stage and hopes it can become a beacon for diplomacy.
"UC Merced has really changed me," he said. "I'm proud to become an alumni."