Life after grad school for an environmental educator and naturalist

robby fruit

ROBBY ASTROVE graduated from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed program in 2005 as part of the third Cohort of students. He is currently the Park Ranger at the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve located in the Arabia Mountain,  National Heritage Area, Lithonia, GA.

Wow, 10 years have passed already.  Even though time and geography have advanced and changed, there are a few things that really stuck from North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed program.  Time and time again these nuggets have provided answers and advisement for over a decade while at the same time provided teachable moments and inspiration to keep doing and learning more. And I’ll admit, the Each-One-Teach-One activity I learned at Mountain School in 2003 still gets regular rotation in my programs.
The vision, philosophy and pedagogy of the grad program is so grand and relevant to the needs of our professional field, that the combination of what’s possible afterward is infinite. North Cascades Institute planted that seed and provided a road map for how to create and sustain a practice that engages people in planetary healing and transformational change.  That sounds pretty dreamy I know, but an important part of realizing that ambition, and perhaps challenging and less exciting, is finding the financial resources to do so.  It took some time for these skills and lessons to finally materialize into practice. My career continues to expand as I explore more at the intersection of environmental education, philanthropy, and urban agriculture:

As the fundraising chair and VP for the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia  I draw back on our discussions, mock phone calls, and foundation asks we performed in our Non-profit class. Saul Weisberg was right; most folks are uncomfortable talking about money—it’s personal, and taboo for some. We learned how important relationships are and how important transparency of impact is to the community. Our stories must be shared in order to spark giving and connection to mission.  Now I get to put these skills to use for my pet project Concrete Jungle, as we strive toward non-profit status and kick off our orchard and membership campaigns with our new fiscal agent. Leadership and non-profit administration skills that I learned from the Institute are in full swing.

concrete jungleA Concrete Jungle business card! Concrete Jungle locates, harvests, and distributes fruit from underutilized public fruit trees that would otherwise go to waste. Donations have exceeded 10,000 lbs to shelters, food banks, and other NGO’s working with Atlanta’s homeless/hungry populations – Photo by the author
first planting at EAVPlanting a fig tree with community members at opening day 2010 for the East Atlanta Farmers Market. I’m on the advisory board and am the market arborist—I manage the fruit tree orchard and edible landscaping at the market site. Photo by Katie Hayes

Last year I participated on a USDA grant review panel and was flown to D.C.  For the first time I wasn’t asking for funding but was deciding where and who it goes to!   This was exciting and a privilege I perused with great seriousness and professionalism as we decided the fate of 23 million dollars to support beginning farmers and ranchers across America. USDA bureaucrats did not decide where the funding went, it was North Cascade Institute grads and very much a citizen-led process!  I got on the panel because of the recommendation of another grad (our network is great!) but really the combination of direct program experience/program leadership, non-profit development, and passion is what got me to the table.  Reflecting back to 2003-2005, this is exactly what was being gained at North Cascades Institute.  The hands-on experience we got as graduate students is one of my most prized possessions that I get to share with the world.

drumsRobby’s band, Dialect Trio, performing at the sweet water brewery in Atlanta, Gorgia. Photo by Elizabeth Johnson
Leading photo: The author posing with a pear tree, one of many public fruit trees in Atlanta were the harvest goes to homeless/hungry people in the city. Photo by Holly Elmore



  1. Tanya Anderson

    It is great to read about how people take lessons they learned at NCI with them wherever they go. I hope to read more alumni updates in Chattermarks in the future!

  2. Saul Weisberg

    Robby! Great to hear your voice and remember those days. You are doing great work on so many fronts – innovation, education, environment, nonprofit, philanthropy… just another day saving the world! Thanks for all the good work you do for so many.

  3. Jeff Giesen

    So glad to see that last drumming picture. You are doing some great work Mr. Astrove!

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