Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS)


National Center for Smart Growth



The mission of the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability is to build more sustainable communities throughout the state of Maryland. The program is designed to provide low-cost assistance to local governments while creating valuable real-world problem solving experiences for University of Maryland graduate and undergraduate students.

This experiential-learning program allows UMD to use its abundance of knowledgeable and energetic students and faculty to promote sustainability while contributing to or initiating sustainable community efforts. Staff from the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability match community needs with existing university courses to develop and implement new sustainability efforts across the state.

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 of 2015.

In Frederick, several projects zeroed in on the more industrialized East Frederick area, exploring ways to connect the city, spur job growth and create a stronger sense of place. A number of the teams consulted peer projects in developing their recommendations, a testament to the program’s interdisciplinary reach.

In College Park, four projects addressed specific goals identified by the city: a calculation of College Park’s annual greenhouse gas emissions; designs for a new City Hall-University building; an examination of waste management practices; and how thought-provoking public art can bridge the town-gown relationship.

Overall, in the program’s inaugural year, three hundred and fifty students from sixteen disciplines worked on twenty-nine projects that totaled one million dollars in project value. Feedback solicited after the projects were completed indicated that PALS projects not only encouraged students to invest more time and effort into the projects since they were working with a real client, but also that the influx of bright, enthusiastic students also energized city staff members. Most students agreed that PALS expanded their knowledge of the subject matter and that they now feel more confident working with professionals and stakeholders.

The $25,000 grant from the University Sustainability Fund enabled the PALS program to offer five more courses than their original budget would have allowed.