the Neighborhood Design Center


January 19, 2022

Andrés Ovalle: How My Childhood Fueled a Career in Forestry at NDC

I can point to three formative experiences from my childhood that laid the groundwork for the work I do today with the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC). 

The first was when I was five years old, playing outside with my friends, and a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck Santiago. While all my friends ran to their houses, I ran and hugged a tree for safety. 

The second experience was when I was in middle school. I was learning about air pollution, caused by explosive urban development and a lack of green space, a huge socio-environmental problem that still impacts Santiago today. To create awareness about the City’s poor air quality, I wrote an eco-rap and performed it in front of my school. 

The third experience was in high school. I had a teacher that forever changed my concept of sustainability and made me want to teach others about the importance of protecting and preserving the environment. 

These experiences shaped me, a poor kid from an ultra-urban environment, and led me to pursue a degree in Forestry Engineering. 

Left: Andrés as a child. Right: Andrés and his son planting trees.

After graduating, I started a career in eco-tourism, leading excursions to different National Parks. I provided groups with information on the natural history, ecology, wildlife, etc., of a park, but I quickly learned that my favorite part of the work was in making nature accessible for people of all backgrounds and in cultivating relationships between people and the environment.

Many years and many jobs later, my goal is still the same - to improve the environment but also to help build more equitable and inclusive communities. At NDC, I am able to do both, and that has been an extremely rewarding part of working for an organization with a long legacy of doing community-driven environmental work.

I truly believe that non-profit organizations like the Neighborhood Design Center are essential to helping local people, communities, and the environment. NDC uses a multidisciplinary approach to working with the community which includes education, environmental science, landscape design, public spaces development, cultural and historic preservation, and community art.

NDC’s work is community led and considers the social, cultural and environmental concerns of each partner community. I found this to be a particularly interesting approach and one that drew me to the organization.

Being part of NDC has been both personally and professionally rewarding. Working on the Right Tree Right Place program has given me the opportunity to work with trees and people, which are both passions of mine. I am grateful that I can do such meaningful work for an organization that strives to make the community and the environment better for all. 

Andrés Ovalle is our part-time Forestry Technician, playing an integral role in assessing and expanding Prince George’s County’s urban forest. Andrés has years of international experience in forestry and eco-tourism, which fuels his passion for engaging with community members in a collaborative process to bring equitable green space to their communities.