PALS Program Listed as a “Noteworthy Practice” for Earning Accreditation

By Maggie Haslam / Sep 16, 2020

 PALS Students doing fieldwork for the watershed project.
Image Caption
PALS Students doing fieldwork for the watershed project.

The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) has singled out UMD’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program as an example of “noteworthy practices” for Bachelor or Master of Planning programs in meeting accreditation criteria. A signature piece of UMD’s Urban Studies and Planning (URSP) curriculum, PALS joins a comprehensive list of sample actions and programs observed by PAB in successful accreditation reviews.

“The PALS program provides our students an opportunity to get engaged in real-world planning projects that have impact in Maryland communities,” said Program Director Casey Dawkins.  “PALS has become an important vehicle for implementing the URSP program’s mission to foster a ‘more just and sustainable world by producing rigorous policy-relevant and community-engaged research.’” 

The URSP program’s Master of Community Planning degree received a seven-year, full term of accreditation in the fall of 2019. Among the program’s strengths and opportunities afforded to students, the board specifically cited the PALS program, noting that it’s hands-on, community-centered focus created an “ideal laboratory for learning.”

Developed by UMD’s National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) and inspired by the Sustainable City Year program at the University of Oregon, PALS pairs faculty expertise and student ingenuity to address sustainability challenges facing Maryland communities. The PALS mission is to provide high quality, low-cost assistance to local governments while creating an active and valuable real-world learning experience for UMD students. Launched in 2014 as a partnership with The City of Frederick, Maryland, PALS has since collaborated with 20 Individual communities, counties or departments, ranging from community partnership groups and cities to county and state agencies. The program has engaged nearly 2,200 students and faculty to improve quality of life in Maryland through site-specific projects. PALS is one of the largest action-learning programs in the country.

“PALS was developed to facilitate the critical university-community relationships that are the hallmark of our work as a land grant institution,” says Gerrit Knaap, director of the NCSG, the university organization that houses the PALS program. “We are proud to serve as a model for other universities looking to engage their faculty and students in contemporary community challenges.” 

The PAB accredits university programs in North America leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in planning, and employs standards developed by sponsoring organizations and from public input. The organization’s list of noteworthy standards is consulted by planning programs around the world preparing for accreditation review. Learn more about the PAB and see the full list of noteworthy practices.