The Man with a Plan 

Marcus Bush (’10)

Marcus Bush '10Marcus Bush says as a child he was captivated by the game SimCity.

Although National City is Marcus Bush’s hometown, you might say he’s really from SimCity. At least it’s reasonable to argue that the fictional locale played as large a role in his life at present as the actual place where he grew up.

In third grade, Bush couldn’t get enough of SimCity, a video game in which players plan and develop all aspects of cities from buildings to budgets. “Basically, the whole premise is to build your own world and deal with the different challenges,” he says.

These days Bush, 26, deals with actual challenges as a community planner and the youngest person ever appointed to chair the National City Planning Commission. He traces his attraction to urban and city planning to SimCity.

“I would spend hours on that,” he recalls. “It was just really fascinating determining where to put the homes or commercial zones. Even though it's at a very simple video game level it really influenced me and started my interest in urban planning issues."


Compact ScholarsMarcus Bush (top row, right) as an SDSU freshman participates in Explore SDSU 2008.

A planner seemingly by nature, Bush says by middle school certain local events captured his imagination, such as where to build a new Chargers stadium or whether or where to move Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s congested airport. “There were a lot of regional issues going on at the time that I was just fascinated with," he remembers.

Also at the time, San Diego State University began an innovative new partnership with the Sweetwater Union High School District called the Compact for Success. It assured admission to SDSU for all students in the district who met certain benchmarks from seventh grade through high school graduation.

Bush was among the first class of seventh graders to sign up for the program. He liked the idea of having clear guidelines to follow in order to get to college.  

“We had a plan set forth for it and as long as we met those requirements we were guaranteed admission to SDSU,” he says. “That guaranteed admission was huge. I think the Compact for Success program was probably the biggest factor of me being at San Diego State.”

Marcus Bush as a studentMarcus Bush in blue shirt with fellow students.


The type of student who would likely succeed on any college campus, Bush says his experiences with other schools left him certain SDSU was the right place for him. “There's something about SDSU,” he says. “It's just the people. There's life and vitality and energy - it's just different.”

Once on campus, Bush became a Compact Scholar – the postsecondary component of the Compact - studying city planning and public administration along with Spanish. It was a lot to take on, but the Compact provides programming and support, including scholarships, to help students succeed.

"The Compact Scholars pushed us to really challenge ourselves and graduate in four years rather than five or six,” Bush says, “so I decided to double major and I did it in four-and-a-half years.”

Janet AbbottSDSU Compact Scholars Program Director Janet Abbott says Marcus Bush "valued the promise" of the Compact for Success.

Bush was one of 201 students to enroll in 2006 as the first cohort of Compact Scholars at SDSU. Since then, more than 3,000 have been admitted, with 533 in the latest group enrolled in the fall of 2014.


Janet Abbott was a founding director of the Compact for Success and presently serves as SDSU Compact Scholars Program Director.  She remembers Bush as one of her program’s earliest success stories.

“He’s fantastic,” she observes. “He really valued the promise (of the Compact). He didn't take it for granted. He had a lot of pride in achieving, not just being admitted to SDSU, but graduating from SDSU.”

Many of the Compact Scholars are considered “at-risk” students for whom a college education is not assumed.  A third of them are low-income, half are first-generation students and almost 90% are students of color.

Yet Compact Scholars succeed at the same levels as the SDSU student population at large.  Graduation rates are the same as are both four and six-year completion rates.

Marcus Bush at Explore SDSUMarcus Bush with students at Explore SDSU 2008.

Abbott remembers how Bush would volunteer to talk with prospective students about the Compact and encourage their participation. “He has always had a lot of enthusiasm for helping,” she says.


That enthusiasm for helping now shows up in Bush’s involvement in his profession and his community. He is a member of the Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association and the San Diego Housing Federation.  In addition to his planning commission post, he is also on the board of directors for the National City Chamber of Commerce and president-elect of the Rotary Club.

Passion and community involvement were just two of the things Brian Mooney (’75), AICP, was looking for in an associate when he hired Bush six months ago. He says he wanted someone to work with and mentor who has “next-generation kind of forward thinking in community planning" that he believes Bush exhibits.

Brian MooneyMooney Planning Collaborative Managing Principal Brian Mooney ('75), AICP, says Marcus Bush exhibits "next-generation kind of forward thinking in community planning."

“Marcus is a bright, intelligent individual who has analytical skills, good communication skills and the desire to make a difference in the world," says Mooney, who is managing principal of Mooney Planning Collaborative, a San Diego-based community and environmental planning firm. “What I have seen (in him) is nothing but an A-plus performer in all categories."


Bush has a sister, Adriana (’14) who was also a Compact Scholar.  He credits the values of their parents with laying a solid foundation for their achievements.

Their mom, Julia, comes from a small farming town in Eastern Oregon.  Their dad, Roscoe, is a Marine Corps veteran who grew up in a mostly rural community in Southern Georgia.

“They definitely encouraged us and they pushed us,” He says. “We had a home, we had a stable environment, we had food - those things are so important.”

It’s the kind of environment he tries to maintain for his own children, four-year-old daughter, Leticia, and son, Julian, who turns two in March. They live in a house Bush bought in National City not far from where he grew up.

Scrapbook EntryBush still keeps a life plan he wrote as a high school assignment.

"It was just a goal I had set for myself a really long time ago to be able to buy a house,” he says when asked about becoming a homeowner at what many might consider a relatively early age. “I think the difference between me and maybe some other people is I actually had that goal. I had it on paper. I had it written down, so I had it already in my mind.

“I think setting goals for yourself - planning your life as best you can - is important."

Bush remembers an augural assignment from his high school days. A teacher asked him and his classmates to write down where they envisioned themselves in a year, in five years, and then in ten.

"I still save that as part of, like, a little scrapbook that we did as part of our senior project and I look back on it,” he says. “It's actually pretty cool because (I’ve done) a lot of those things I said I was going to do in my personal life like buying a home and starting a family.”

Everything according to plan.

You can help students like Marcus succeed by making a tax-deductible donation of any amount to SDSU Compact Scholars.