By Tom Hausman

For The Diamondback

Twenty-seven classes of University of Maryland students spent the past academic year collaborating with Howard County officials to consult on sustainable designs and future projects.

As part of the university’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability program, the students showcased 18 projects throughout Stamp Student Union’s Atrium at its first annual open house Friday, ranging from Aging In Place programs to redesigning the Lake Kittamaqundi waterfront.

Chris Chima, a senior landscape architecture major, drafted a new look for Lake Kittamaqundi that uses low-impact developments to limit the amount of rain runoff from the Mall in Columbia.

“It is good to interact with a client, because that’s what we’re going to be doing in the future,” Chima said. “It was a good experience, moving forward for me. … A very good way to learn how to interact with clients.”

Chima’s design won an award for design excellence for the Columbia Lakefront master plan, and the county intends to incorporate parts of his design into future plans.

The PALS program has been in place for the past two years, and has focused on the cities of Frederick, Salisbury, College Park and most recently Howard County. Director Uri Avin announced at the open house that students will work on projects in Anne Arundel County and the city of Annapolis.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day worked with the program in its infancy as a council member, and said the city was the “right kind of crazy” to participate as the first partnership location.

Salisbury received more than $1 million of consultation and designs from the students in the program, he said.

Day said Salisbury took full advantage of the student designers, and some of them have been brought in as private consultants, implementing their designs into the newly proposed 20-year plan.

“Students bring all this creativity, and all this energy, and all this passion, right into our communities,” Day said. “It is fantastic, it is empowering and it uplifts a spirit that has … been residing under the surface of our cities and counties.”

The mayor, who studied architecture at this university, said student work brings a new perspective to the city.

The instructors serve as a bridge between the students and clients, teaching students business communication skills and strengthening their knowledge in one of 17 disciplines.

Christopher Ellis, a professor of landscape architecture, said students are coming into these classes with a baseline knowledge of sustainability, which allows him to then focus more on advanced designs and materials and teach how it can affect people. One example, he said, is that studies have shown hospital patients tend to recover faster if there is a better view of grass outside.

“[The three focus points include] what kind of materials do you need to carry out a project, are there ways to do things less expensively, and we care about people,” Ellis said. “Everything we do is for people.”