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UMD's New PALS Program to Launch 28 Courses for Inaugural Year

August 12, 2014

Maggie Haslam, Maggiehaslam6@gmail.com

50,000 hours of student work will help the City of Frederick

PALSCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – In a bold, campus-wide community engagement initiative, the University of Maryland's new Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) will debut 28 courses geared toward galvanizing sustainable growth in Frederick, Maryland for the 2014-15 academic year. The course list is twice the number originally imagined for PALS' inaugural year. It draws courses from seven different schools and several specialized university programs, spanning a variety of disciplines across campus. In all, about 50,000 hours of student work and faculty expertise will be dedicated to Frederick over the two semesters.

"PALS is a landmark program for the university, in that it will pool the vast resources of faculty and students campus-wide for Maryland communities," says Uri Avin, director of PALS. "This is an extraordinary example of multiple programs collaborating with one community in mind. We hope the impact will be profound."

Developed by UMD's National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG), with support from the Town Creek Foundation and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, PALS is the first initiative of its kind at the university. Its mission is to blend student ingenuity, classroom concepts and faculty expertise in a meaningful way, leveraging the entire weight of the university's assets to help Maryland communities become leaders in sustainable practices. Coursework customized by PALS faculty targets the goals and projects articulated by Frederick, engaging students directly with the community on real projects. The win-win partnership created through PALS provides faculty an exciting, real-world venue to illustrate curriculum concepts, gives students the opportunity to stretch their critical and creative thinking muscles and allows Maryland communities unparalleled access to UMD's expertise and energy.

2014-15 Participating UMD colleges, schools and programs include:

  • The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • The School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
  • The College of Arts and Humanities
  • The Robert H. Smith Business School
  • The College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences
  • The School of Public Policy
  • The Phillip Merrill College of Journalism
  • College Park Scholars
  • National Center for Smart Growth
  • Environmental Finance Center
  • Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Planning for Frederick

PALS administrators selected the Western Maryland city of Frederick as its first partner community in March. Administrators worked to match nearly 45 sustainability-oriented projects designated by the city with faculty and courses across campus. Roughly half of the 28 courses—ranging from real estate development to journalism—will commence in late August, with the remaining courses running in the spring. Among the projects slated for this year, business school students will develop marketing strategies for local businesses, conservation biology students will map invasive plant species in Frederick's watershed, College Park Scholars will investigate a municipal composting program and landscape architecture students will offer solutions for ecological challenges in the city's renowned Carroll Creek. Avin estimates that 300 students will participate in PALS coursework this year.

"What I'm really excited about is the real world experience we'll be offering our students," said Dr. Keryn Gedan, who will be leading a course on climate change and how it relates to municipal watersheds. "It's much more applied and is truly an active learning experience. In the past, my course has been entirely lecture-based. This is the first time we have ever participated in fieldwork. Not only will the students be able to take classroom concepts on global climate change and apply them on local level, they can share their work with each other, the public and the city, which I think will be much more meaningful."

"I am tremendously impressed with the seriousness and commitment of both the City's staff and UMD to make this pilot a model for Maryland," said Randy Clement, Mayor of the City of Frederick. "This will be a great program and we cannot wait to get started in September!"

Successful Test-Run Sets Program Expectation

A successful beta test of PALS ran this past spring in Salisbury, Md., under the guidance of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The project, entitled "Envision Salisbury," partnered 50 undergraduate and graduate architecture students with Salisbury residents to re-envision a new city master plan. Salisbury officials were enthusiastic about the host of design concepts created by the students, which included a plan to mitigate floodwater, developing a vibrant, functional river front design and strengthen the city's identity through gateways. With the help of two UMD students hired by the city for the summer, the planning board is integrating several of the ideas into an updated master plan.  

PALS hopes to replicate UMD's efforts in Salisbury again in Frederick, where students and faculty are performing a "deep-dive" effort on many levels—from government to homeowners—gauging what ideas and solutions are both novel and attainable. While the results of the student's work will be compiled and presented to the city at the end of each semester, a blog—debuting in September—as well as two journalism classes, will document and report on the various projects throughout the year.

"If Salisbury is any indication of PALS' success, we are on our way to creating an extraordinary program for both the University and the state," says Gerrit Knaap, director of the NCSG.

To learn more about PALS, visit the program website.