Colorado Springs is Jenna Celmer’s first experience living in the United States. When she moved here with her husband, she enrolled in UCCS and then was hired as director of operations and marketing for the Catalyst Campus School of Technology and Innovation, an O’Neil Group company. She brings her international experiences to the position, which she discusses with the Business Journal. Celmer explains how the project could change the entrepreneurial climate of the city.

jenna-celmerWhere are you from and how did you end up in Colorado Springs?

I’m actually from right near Toronto originally. I’m openly Canadian. My husband is active duty [U.S.] Air Force. When I moved out of my parents’ home in Canada, I moved to Spain, where he was stationed, and then we moved to Germany together. Then he was stationed in Colorado Springs. That was in 2012.

What did you do when you first got to this area?

I went to UCCS for my master’s in public administration … I’ve always been interested in international affairs and leadership and organizational management. This [position] encompassed all of those things and a couple more. I thought this was an opportunity to learn a ton. I’d heard great things about [the UCCS] school of public affairs. It was local and seemed to be everything I wanted. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

What about this particular position interested you?

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One of my professors from UCCS … recommended me … What interested me is that the project is so dynamic and it has a lot of potential. It was an opportunity for me to make an impact. That’s all I’ve been seeking to do my whole life. It’s really a dream job. I do operations and marketing … but really I’m responsible for communications, branding, speaking with the community — making sure everything runs efficiently up to launch and after.

Discuss the goal of Catalyst Campus.

There are a ton of job openings in this city. [The campus will] bridge the gap between our talented workforce and jobs. Sometimes a worker just needs one skill. Also, this gives a platform to tech industries that are usually siloed. It creates a hub — a physical space, but also a space where people can gather and create opportunities, where people can work together and become more successful than they could be alone. I think places like this are where innovation is born and it’s kind of organic. Just chatting with someone and discovering things in common can help each other grow … If you work in that kind of environment, it can happen for you.

What personal experiences help you with your current responsibilities?

I’ve had a lot of experiences in other cities. I’ve seen some things work really well and some things that maybe could use some work. When I first came to Colorado Springs, I had a vision of what it would be and it was a little bit different. But I thought this could be an amazing city. We’re just missing a few key pieces. This project brings a lot of those pieces. It brings opportunities for collaboration and for the community to be seen on a national level. I wanted to help elevate the city.

What are things you saw in your travels that you’d like to see happening in Colorado Springs?

The health and lifestyle here is amazing. There are so many opportunities for health, wellness and fitness … There are opportunities to be seen as a leader in technology. If we consolidated our influence, we absolutely could do that, but we need the collaboration piece I’ve seen done really well in other places. Also the connectivity piece, like public transit and making sure everyone is connected physically to each other. I think that’s what we’re missing. Kitchener, Ontario, where I’m from, is a great [example]. Blackberry is based there. [Kitchener] has reached out to innovators and I love that model. Also, cities in Europe are based on sustainability, with practices as simple as recycling and being walkable.

What have you been doing since you were hired in January?

Getting ready for launch, which will probably be in early 2016. We’re waiting on construction … and making sure our branding is on point and that what we’re doing will be good for the community. Our focus has shifted since we first started. We’re doing an education piece, but we’re also focused on workforce development and occupational accelerations. The shift to that has been what we’re working on the past couple months. We’ve decided we need some nonprofit entities to fulfill that mission.

What can you tell us about some features of the campus?

It will have collaborative space that will be an entrepreneurial hub with a tech focus … For the education component, we will have five or six classrooms for programming languages, cybersecurity … anything the industry is asking for. We also have executive suites so industry members can actually be physically located here. We’re almost out of space and will have to construct a few new buildings. The other piece will be from nonprofits, like technological advancement.

We’ll have research and development labs, cybersecurity and environmental intelligence. We’ll make sure there are opportunities for industry, whether that’s teaming arrangements for contracting or providing the physical space.

So this is the first time you’ve really lived in the U.S. What do you think?

I spent a month in Texas before I came here. So Colorado Springs is so wonderful. The people here are super nice. They remind me of Canadians.

What do you miss about Canada? 

Tim Hortons [a popular Canadian restaurant chain focused on coffee and doughnuts]. Any Canadian will recognize that name. And my mom’s cooking. I miss my family tremendously. But they’ve come down to visit and they love it here.