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Public Leadership

Changing the world through effective, ethical leadership

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As a nation and as a world, we face multiple urgent challenges, from social inequalities to climate change. How do we assess what could work, and why? How might our differing identities and perspectives impact how we shape our solutions?

Public Leadership (PL) focuses on developing and strengthening students’ leadership and life skills so that they can use their talents to address social, political, environmental, and economic problems in their local and global community. We use current events and policy issues to explore the theory and practice of leadership. PL Scholars explore:

  • Different models of leadership, citizenship and social change;
  • Forms of persuasion and power and how to use them effectively;
  • Ethical approaches to decision-making and negotiation; and
  • Life and career development skills.

Through panels, debates, simulations, case studies, group discussions, long-term projects, and dialogue with guest speakers, PL students become informed citizens able to engage in a healthy discussion of issues and reason critically and persuasively about community matters. Personal and professional development are also integrated into the curriculum: Students will advance their writing, communication, and presentation skills; practice negotiation fundamentals; and discover and develop their own leadership styles and strengths.

PL welcomes students of all majors who are committed to developing their leadership skills in pursuit of the common good.

Colloquium and Lecture Topics

  • Understanding leadership strengths in yourself and others
  • Leadership and social change application
  • Communicating across differing values and identities
  • Time management and coping with stress

Joining the PL program was one of the best decisions I made at Maryland. Because of PL, many career opportunities opened for me that otherwise would have been a long shot, and the floormates I lived with in the PL dorms are some of the best friends I've made at UMD.

Amir Kalantary
Amir Kalantary '22

Other Learning Opportunities

Located near the nation's capital, the state capital and a large international diplomatic community, the University of Maryland is an ideal setting for examining and growing public leadership. Students:

  • Take engaging field trips, such as to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts;
  • Experience professional development seminars and speaker events; and
  • Engage in a team-based grant-making experience, where they seek grant proposals from nonprofits in the capital region serving an identified social issue, evaluate proposals and award grants with actual funding from the Do Good Institute.

Finally, through the program’s practicum requirement, students gain valuable professional experience that allows them to leverage their newly learned communications and leadership evaluation skills in their field of choice. Past students have interned in a wide variety of career fields including: on Congressional committees; for local nonprofits; in the Student Legal Aid office; for large tech and finance organizations; and even engaged in research in labs on and off campus.

Curriculum Overview

Over the two-year program experience (four semesters), students will complete a 3-credit oral communication course that will count toward their PL Scholars citation and General Education requirements. Note that your Scholars courses will generally be in addition to any courses you take to satisfy major requirements.

The following table represents a typical two-year curriculum, but individual schedules may vary. Details about courses and requirements can be found on the PL Citation Checklist.

Semester 1 CPPL 100: Colloquium I (DVCC) 1 credit
PLCY 201S: Public Leaders and Active Citizens (SCIS, DSHS or DSSP) 3 credits
Semester 2 CPPL 101: Colloquium II 1 credit
Semester 3 CPPL 200: Colloquium III 1 credit
Semester 3 or 4 Practicum (var. Gen Ed) 3 credits
Semester 1, 2, 3, or 4 Oral Communication Course (FSOC) 3 credits

Sponsoring College

School of Public Policy

Office Address

1120 Cumberland Hall

Office Phone



Portrait of Susannah Washburn

Susannah Washburn

Program Director, Public Leadership
Portrait of Kelly Brower

Kelly Brower

Assistant Director, Public Leadership

News and Notes, Etc.

Public Leadership News

Showing 1 - 6 of 32
  • Numerous Scholars Earn University Student Leadership Awards

    The Annual University Student Leadership Awards program recognizes and celebrates the outstanding achievements of our student leaders and scholars. Through this program, the university aims to acknowledge the exceptional academic performances and contributions to the University of Maryland community and surrounding neighborhoods made by students.Numerous Scholars were finalists and recipients of several of UMD's top awards.

  • Fourteen Scholars Named Class of 2024 Senior Marshals

    Senior Marshals are graduating seniors who have demonstrated the highest levels of scholarship, service to the campus community, extracurricular involvement, and personal growth. The University of Maryland Senior Marshals represent graduating seniors who have demonstrated the highest levels of scholarship, service to the campus community, extracurricular involvement, and personal growth.

  • PL's Susannah Washburn Receives Donna Hamilton Teaching Award

    Susannah Washburn, the director of College Park Scholars' Public Leadership program, was recently awarded the 2024 Donna B. Hamilton Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the Office of Undergraduate Studies (UGST) Programs. She becomes the fourth College Park Scholars program director to earn the honor, following Dr. Elisabeth Maring, who leads the Global Public Health program (2022), Kalyani Chadha, former director of Media, Self and Society (2015) and David A. Crocker, former director of the Public Leadership program (2012).

  • PL Alum Receives Student Award from BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance

    The Bowie State University and University of Maryland Social Justice Alliance (SJA) recently hosted its sixth annual Symposium at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center on the College Park campus.The Bowie State University and University of Maryland Social Justice Alliance is dedicated to eradicating the ideology of intolerance, while confronting individuals and combatting systems that normalize indifference, justify injustice, perpetuate hate and inflict violence. The SJA is committed to social justice change through advocacy and action that impacts local, state, national, and global challenges.

  • PL Alum Reflects on Making the Most of Her Smith School Experience - Miriam Oke ’24

    When she walks across the Commencement stage to collect her diploma, Miriam Oke ’24 can undoubtedly say she left her mark on the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.Oke, a Public Leadership Scholars alum and finance major with a minor in nonprofit leadership and social innovation at the Smith School, knew even before she took her first steps on campus as a student that she wanted a college experience predicated on forging connections and building communities. During the next four years, she did that and more.

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