Maclen Zilber

Warren College senior Maclen Zilber has an impressive resume.

In addition to wrapping up a dual degree in political science and economics (he’s projected to graduate in a couple quarters), Zilber’s a current Warren College A.S. Senator, has served as undergraduate representative on the UCSD Academic Senate’s Program Review Committee, is a trustee on the UCSD Student Foundation and is rush adviser for honor fraternity Phi Sigma Pi.

Zilber is also 18 years old.

“There was a couple reasons [why I left high school early],” Zilber, who left high school at age 15 for community college, said. “One was that I thought it would save a lot of time and money, the other reasons was that my mom had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a terminal illness, so I wanted to be able to spend more time with her and also to have a chance of graduating from college while she was still alive.”

Zilber’s tenacious drive came to the attention of UCSD when the precocious coed was singled out by former President Bill Clinton for the “initiative” — or project — he conceived during last month’s Clinton Global Initiative University conference.

Zilber’s idea, called “Incentives for Opportunity,” would work to raise awareness of the 2009 American Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows students a $2,500 annual tax credit for books, tuition, supplies and other school necessities.

“It was something that sort of randomly came to me out of the blue,” Zilber said. “I was putting together my tax information and I realized that I was going to have to pay in the neighborhood of a month’s rent of taxes — and I realized that this Tax Credit was available and it was going to offset my entire tax burden. And I looked it up and I realized that it was being utilized at a far lower rate than was expected. So, I thought it seemed like a good sort of minor initiative to change things up at the margins.”

Since the IRS wasn’t exactly making strides to reach out to college students, the East Bay native took it upon himself to spread the word. But Zilber never planned to advance to the second round at the CGIU conference; in fact, he applied to CGIU on a whim.

“To be honest, filling out applications to CGIU was never a big part of the process,” Zilber said. “I truthfully assumed that I wouldn’t be accepted into CGIU, let alone have it be recognized the way it was. I decided to submit it because I wanted to get ideas from a bunch of other policy-minded young leaders, and I think in that regard CGIU was very helpful.”

Still, the former president was impressed.

“Mac Zilber’s from right here at UC San Diego,” Clinton said at the CGIU conference on April 1. “Now, this is probably one of those projects that’s going to be copied after you leave here, which is the whole point of this, by the way. Anyway, here’s what Mac Zilber’s going to do — he’s come up with creative ways to educate his fellow students about changes in the American Federal Tax Credit.”

Since CGIU, Zilber has been working to release a survey about the American Opportunity for Tax Credit to the student body.

“It’s going to be a multi-step process,” Zilber said. “The first step is data gathering, a scientific survey to let us know where we’re starting from — how many students use the credit, how many students file their own taxes, what’s their income, year, demographics and all that so we know exactly where to target.”

Zilber hopes to release the survey in the coming weeks so that students will have enough time to respond before finals week. Eventually, he hopes the movement will gain enough ground to spread to other university campuses.

“The project is going to run at the very least through the next year and if the second survey shows that it’s worked and it’s increased the Tax Credit by some large amount of money then, at that point, the initiative would probably continue to other schools,” Zilber said.

Zilber plans to attend law school, after taking a few years off to, you know, age.

“I’m probably going to go to law school, though I won’t do it right away because I think being 19 or 20 and starting law school would be a little intense,” Zilber said. “So, I think I’m going to spend a few years working either working in Teach for America or D.C. or something before I go to law school.”

Not that Zilber plans on abandoning the project altogether post-graduation.

“In terms of after I graduate, if the project has done well, or if I’m at the point where it can be scaled, I’ll probably keep some oversight of it while also giving off a lot of control to the now-presidents of the various colonies that there will, hopefully, be at other schools,” he said.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$210
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$210
$500
Contributed
Our Goal