San Jose State University is 2,200 miles from New Orleans. But on Tuesday the spirit of Mardi Gras filled the campus, which is leading a growing network of colleges pushing for a federal law to create thousands of jobs in the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast.

Sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton and a group of his students are spearheading a nationwide campaign for HR 4048, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.

To drum up support for the campaign, students danced to a local brass band, passed out Mardi Gras beads and dished out red beans, rice and cornbread.

Drafted on the San Jose campus, the legislation calls on the federal government to create 100,000 jobs in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast in communities destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It's modeled on the vast public works programs created during the 1930s, when millions of Americans were put to work building highways, parks and public libraries.

Myers-Lipton's passion for activism has made San Jose State the leader for the bill, which Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, introduced in Congress. The challenge now is getting at least 100 members to sign on as co-sponsors.

Junior Roberto Garcia-Ceballos, 21, went to New Orleans for the first time last month. He spent three days helping to gut houses and clear lots in the city's Lower Ninth Ward, a low-income neighborhood devastated by Katrina that has become the focus of intense debate about how New Orleans rebuilds.

"The trip was very eye-opening about all of the social problems this country has," said Garcia-Ceballos. "They've torn down public housing, and there are huge homeless encampments under the freeways."

Two and half years after Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans, many of Myers-Lipton's students are stunned that so much of the city remains destroyed.

"I talked to people who have to travel four to 12 miles just to get groceries," said Kristin Rasmussen, 27. "Parts of the city feel like a ghost town."