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An interview with FCHS alumnus Nate Byro

Describe your educational and professional background:

After graduation, I attended Iowa State University. During the first year I decided to move from pre-architecture to pre-landscape architecture. During the first semester of the program, I realized that I made the right decision. I continued my studies, remaining active with various organizations on campus. I spent a partial semester studying abroad in Coyhaique, Chile with the National Outdoor Leadership School. I graduated Cum Laude in 2017 from the 5-year professional program with a degree in landscape architecture and environmental studies. During school I had various job opportunities. I was a research assistant under Professor Mimi Wagner researching river trail corridors. I also did an internship for RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines during the spring and summer of my fourth year. I returned to work for them full time after graduation and remain with them today. I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects all over the United States, from a college sports complex for the University of Connecticut to a full urban project for the University of North Dakota. I have also worked in many cities across the state, from small projects in cities of 500 to the youth sports complex at the Field of Dreams movie site and a proposed whitewater park along the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers in downtown Des Moines . During this time, I was also studying for my licensing exams and became a professional landscape architect in September 2020. A year ago, I was presented with the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Iowa State, and teach at Savanna Studio , which travels across the western and southern United States. I have been teaching full-time at Iowa State as a lecturer for the last year and a half, while continuing to practice part-time in Des Moines.

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What led you to choose this career path?

I have always had an interest in design and art and have always taken architecture into consideration. When I went to the state of Iowa, I misunderstood landscape architecture and the profession. A college professor (and now my colleague), Associate Professor Michael Martin, taught an introductory design class required for all freshmen. During this class, I learned about all the opportunities a landscape architect had, from designing urban parks and plazas to working in national parks. I’ve always had a love of the outdoors, and it felt like the perfect marriage of design and nature.

What are some of the challenges in your career?

It can be a very stressful career at times. We are constantly working to meet client deadlines while delivering meaningful projects that are good for the public. It’s also a very misunderstood profession, so I spend a lot of time telling people, “No, I don’t mow lawns.” Many times, our clients and the communities we work with don’t know what they need. Create a journey for us, to take together, to discover a solution that fits their needs, while also creating a meaningful place that improves the lives of those it touches. What we design gets built and could have a lifespan of 50 years or more. The challenge of meeting their needs while protecting the environment and biodiversity can be daunting.

What are some of the benefits of your career?

My favorite aspect has been the ability to form a community and see my ideas realized. We change people’s lives and they generally don’t even know it. I remember talking to a college friend about a park in her community (Overland Park, KS). She was saying how much she loved the park and always enjoyed seeing families in the area. It was a project my company came up with that I witnessed and she had no idea! Now that I’ve moved into higher education, my favorite aspect has been watching students learn, understand, and make connections. There is no greater feeling than seeing a student finally understand a concept.

What are your future plans?

As of right now, that’s a lot of pending! I am currently exploring graduate schools to continue a career in academia. However, I love to design and plan to continue practicing landscaping in some capacity.

What are your hobbies or other interests?

Running, photographing and spending time outdoors. I ran cross country in high school and stopped running when I got to college. However, I rediscovered it with the help of some old high school friends. I find it a great stress reliever! I’ve run a couple half marathons with the guys and will be training for my first marathon this summer. I have a group of friends who ride bikes together on regular occasions. This group led me to join my first RAGBRAI this past summer, covering every mile. I also like to come home and spend time with my family.

Any particular memories of FCHS?

Some of my favorite memories of FCHS come from marching band, talk and cross country. I remember all the banter in cross country trying to see how much distance we could cut. I remember the rewards of all the time spent at marching band rehearsals with our Division I ratings at the state band competition. They were always a fun time and a great celebration of a lot of hard work.

How has growing up in a small town influenced your life and career path?

Growing up in a small town makes you, for better or for worse, get to know the people around you very well. The community it has distilled in me drives me to get to know a community inside out when I’m designing for them. I think that makes me a better designer. It also inspires me to build my community around me. It’s funny, I always say Des Moines looks like a big, small city. Once you’re rooted in the community, you meet people you know from everywhere. It helps make the city welcoming and feels like home.

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