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UMD Launches "PALS" Partnership with Howard County, Maryland and Columbia Association

September 3, 2015

Maggie Haslam 202-258-8946

New partnership aims to put education to work for a more sustainable county

PALSCOLLEGE PARK, Md—The University of Maryland has launched its third community collaboration for its campus-wide action-learning program, The Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS). More than 500 graduate and undergraduate students from 16 programs will work in Howard County, Md., as part of a yearlong partnership with Howard County Government and Columbia Association (CA)

“I am excited by this opportunity to use some of the smartest and brightest students in our state to research and analyze best practices for sustainability,” said Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.  “The studies conducted should provide us with an arsenal of information that will assist us in our decision making as we work toward building a more economically, environmentally and agriculturally sustainable community.  We are developing a model that other communities will likely follow.”

"Columbia Association is proud to be selected as the first non-profit organization to participate in the PALS program”, said CA President and CEO, Milton W. Matthews. “CA is in the 'quality of life business'; so, we are looking forward to working with faculty and students in the program on projects that will ultimately lead to enhancing the quality of life in Columbia and Howard County."

Developed by the university’s National Center for Smart Growth, PALS pairs faculty expertise with student ingenuity to tackle sustainability issues facing Maryland communities. PALS partners with one or two communities each academic year, matching customized coursework with the specific challenges described by the partner community. Offering on-the-ground civic engagement, PALS coursework not only provides a living case study for students, it offers a rewarding social experience and best mirrors future professional interactions within their disciplines. PALS initiated its first partnership with The City of Frederick, Maryland in September of 2014, adding a second, smaller collaboration with College Park in January. The new partnership with Howard County and CA makes PALS the largest action-learning program in the country. 

“We are very excited to be working with Howard County and Columbia Association on developing these worthwhile sustainability initiatives,” said Uri Avin, Director of the PALS program. “Research has shown that these kinds of action learning courses are among the handful of high impact learning experiences that engage students, prepare them for their professions and instill a sense of ownership in creating sustainable communities. We look forward to seeing what they will do this year.”

Howard County partnership marks a number of program firsts

PALS administrators cemented the partnership with Howard County government officials and leaders of Columbia Association in February. The new partnership offers a number of changes from the first year of the program, most notably, the number and kind of players involved; Columbia Association, which is working in close collaboration with the county government, is the first non-profit organization to participate in PALS, funding five courses. Columbia Association represents 100,000 residents within the county, offering a variety of recreational, cultural and community services and maintaining an ongoing commitment to a vibrant quality of life in Columbia. This year also marks the first cross-institutional collaboration for PALS, with UMD students working in tandem on two projects with Howard Community College and an additional two courses spearheaded by UMD Baltimore. 

Howard County is the largest jurisdiction to partner with the PALS program; located in the heart of central Maryland, the county is the fifth most populous county in the state. PALS administrators, county stakeholders and Columbia Association worked to match nearly 66 sustainability-oriented projects designated by stakeholders—from developing models for profitable small farming and addressing flooding issues in Ellicott City, to identifying best practices for managing forest edges in Columbia—with faculty and courses. While PALS inaugural year offered cross-disciplinary opportunities, this year will see these increase in both size and scale; courses addressing the  revitalization  of historic Ellicott City, for instance, will draw from a number of schools, including architecture, social work, business and information management.

PALS 2015-16 at a glance

  • 34 courses address almost all high and medium priority projects designated by stakeholders
  • Number of undergraduate courses has nearly doubled—from 7 to 13—from first year partnership
  • Course load pulls from 16 programs and 10 colleges and schools at the University
  • The Howard County partnership will galvanize more than 500 students, compared to 300 last year
  • Of the 20 faculty who participated in year one, 12 returned, with an additional 15 joining the program

Roughly half of the 33 courses commence this week, with the remaining taking place in the spring. 

See the 2015-16 PALS course roster

Building on a successful first year

PALS inaugural partnership with The City of Frederick engaged more than 300 students in 25 courses spread across 11 programs, generating nearly one million dollars in project value. The City is currently implementing three of the project proposals and integrating several others into their plans.

“PALS has been a great partnership and has provided invaluable information for our City; we’ll be able to use it for a long time coming,” said Frederick Mayor Randy McClement. “I think it shows what a true partnership in education can do.” 

Sustainable Communities remain at partnership core

The mission of PALS is to help communities improve their quality of life through the vast resources available at the University. PALS was initiated  by Dr. Gerrit Jan-Knaap, director of the University’s National Center for Smart Growth, in response to two very distinct—yet interconnected—issues: a lack of “real world” experiential opportunities for students to practice classroom skills, and the contemporary struggle local governments face with dwindling budgets, overburdened staff and mounting sustainability issues. Through interdisciplinary and cross-community collaboration, the PALS program represents an integral part of the university’s land grant mission to create a more sustainable Maryland. 

“PALS offers a platform for communities and the university to work together to solve some of our states most pressing issues in sustainability,” said Knaap. “We are very excited to be working in Howard County this year and I am eager to see the partnership results—both in the community and in the classroom.”

Learn more about PALS here.