Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability


What is PALS?

The Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) is administered by the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). It is a campus-wide initiative that harnesses the expertise of UMD faculty and the energy and ingenuity of UMD students to help Maryland communities become more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable. PALS is designed to provide innovative, low-cost assistance to local governments while creating real-world problem-solving experiences for University of Maryland graduate and undergraduate students. 

The wide range of disciplines collaborating through PALS allows the partnering jurisdiction to address many real-world challenges. Faculty, who volunteer for the PALS program because of their interest and commitment to action learning, incorporate the jurisdiction’s specific issues as part of their course’s applied exercise. Students then get to put classroom concepts and inventive thinking to work to complete these sustainability-focused projects while working with a real client and producing a useful product for the partner city or county.

Students benefit through the real-world application of course concepts and meaningfully impacting Maryland communities.

Faculty benefit through teaching existing courses in exciting, innovative ways and directing their academic efforts towards helping Maryland become more sustainable.

Maryland communities benefit from access to University resources and expertise as well as over 50,000 student-hours to help them create a more sustainable future.

How does PALS work?

PALS will select a local government with which to work for an academic year (two semesters) and ask that local government to identify specific sustainability challenges with which they would like assistance from the University of Maryland.   These challenges could include things like urban revitalization, storm water or solid waste management, economic development, social service management, communications, social media, financial management, public health, environmental protection, culture and arts, and more. PALS staff will then look for faculty who teach existing courses from across campus who are willing to focus their course or course project/case studies on the challenges identified by the chosen local government.  

Who can participate in PALS?

Any city, town, county or community government office can apply for to partner with the PALS. Agreeing on the partnership requires a one-year commitment of coordination and a modest financial contribution to defray faculty and student expenses.

What sorts of issues can PALS help your community address?

  • Expanding your job base or attracting new jobs
  • Managing your energy supplies efficiently
  • Assuring water quality and conservation
  • Meeting stormwater and land use regulations
  • Taking your recycling program to the next level
  • Exploring new funding methods for fire and police
  • Engaging minority and low-income communities
  • Creating wellness programs
  • Using social media effectively
  • Anticipating climate change
  • Capturing the value of public investment through tax increment finance
  • Making targeted investments in transportation
  • Promoting tourism as economic development
  • Revitalizing aging communities 



PALS Informational Flyer                                    

 PALS 2-page flyer              


PALS in the News

PALS Expense Form and University Vehicle Rentals


PALS and Frederick, Maryland - 2014/2015 Partnership

PALS and College Park, Maryland - Long-term Partnership

      Making Place: Public Art and Design

PALS and Howard County, Maryland - 2015/2016 Partnership




For more information contact:

PALS Director, Uri Avin

PALS Coordinator, Kiel Edson

NCSG Director, Gerrit Knaap