One would not expect to find parallels between a Californian Buddhist center and Zingerman’s. Nonetheless, Robby Griswold gained experience in fundraising and nonprofit work from both locations, something that would later contribute to the creation of a podcast for the Residential College.

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“I was really omnivorous with my education,” the communications and outreach coordinator for the RC said, regarding his college years.

“I was interested in how performance artists use methods of meditation in their art. I took a semester off to live in a Buddhist center in California during that time, which was a real crash course into meditation and Tibetan Buddhist psychology and this whole other orientation of your life around a spiritual practice. I found that to be really wonderful.”

During his time there, Griswold volunteered to help rebuild libraries of Tibetan texts that had been lost during the Communist takeover of China. The organization’s efforts to re-create the texts aimed to preserve Tibetan monastic culture.

Photo of Robby Griswold of the Residential College
Robby Griswold, the communications and outreach coordinator for the Residential College, created an RC Podcast to more effectively inform faculty, students and alumni about the various projects and opportunities at the RC. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)

“California was where I had my first taste of nonprofit fundraising work,” Griswold said. “I went there to do physical labor, I wanted to get out of my head, and so I went to California for the volunteering aspect. But then I was asked to help them fundraise because they realized that I was a good talker and strategist, and a good writer. So I helped them put on their big annual fundraising event, which was a lot of fun.” 

Griswold returned to Ann Arbor to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in arts and ideas in the humanities. The lessons he learned in California about the importance of storytelling and historical preservation, as well as fundraising strategies, informed his professional career as the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses community partnerships manager and chair of its diversity and inclusion committee, as well as his current position at the Residential College.

“I learned a lot about finance and a lot about building culture and leadership within an organization,” Griswold said about his time at Zingerman’s.

“It was a really wonderful role because it got me connected to the Washtenaw community of nonprofit work. I really got to know lots of different people and work on positioning Zingerman’s to be visible in its philanthropic work, but always without drawing too much attention to it as a marketing ploy.”

After 10 years at Zingerman’s Griswold thought it was time for a change. He returned to the Residential College, where he had completed his degree. Griswold informs faculty, students and alumni about the various projects and opportunities at the RC. He quickly realized that he could use a more progressive approach, which gave birth to the RC Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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“I thought, how can I better reach alumni?” Griswold said. “And how can we create content that’s more dynamic, that happens more throughout the year, and that can be delivered in a way that I can track if it’s being watched or read? The podcast seemed to be an obvious (medium) because, as I was meeting and chatting with people, they were saying things to me that made me think, ‘Other people want to hear this, this is really interesting.’ So it just started. I was sort of like, let’s try this.”

The podcast features an array of profiles, ranging from student organizers to professors. Griswold said he selects the individuals he interviews with an awareness that his podcast reflects the Residential College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“Integrating these elements of diversity into the podcast reflects the conversations that happen in the hallways of East Quad,” where the RC is located, Griswold said. “We need to talk about how to break through all of these rigid structures that keep us in boxes to celebrate how each of us contribute uniquely to a just world, the ways we are diverse.”

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