By Erinn Callahan

Stephanie Adams’ childhood dreams were made of white walls, empty space and animated discussions about beautiful concepts.

Adams’ office at UCCS’ newly christened downtown campus isn’t quite the art gallery she imagined, but it still manages to tick each of those boxes.

“In my new role, I have a beautiful space that I’m managing, and instead of talking about the art on the walls, we’re talking about education and personal development,” Adams said. “It’s kind of funny in a roundabout way to find yourself where you wanted to be when you were little.”

Adams, 33, is entering her fourth week as site director of UCCS Downtown, which opened last September in Suite 105-A at 102 S. Tejon St. She came to the campus after nearly seven years as the director of member services at the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado.

“Changing jobs after that long feels terrifying but it’s been a great first three weeks,” Adams said. “This feels so much like crafting something from the ground up, and although I’m not responsible for the vision whatsoever to get us to this point, I feel very proud that I’m able to carry it forward.”

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A native of Peyton, Adams has a bachelor’s degree in geography from UCCS and is currently pursuing a master’s in public administration from the UCCS School of Public Affairs. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Blake, a computer technician in Widefield School District 3.

Adams spoke with the Business Journal this week about the vital role young professionals play in shaping the future of downtown Colorado Springs, as well as her passion and vision for the community.

How did you find yourself in nonprofit management?

My bachelor’s degree is in geography, but mainly it was computer mapping and database administration. That made it a really easy fit with websites and database and membership software. That’s how I got into nonprofit management — the technology side — which is completely unconventional. Most people get into nonprofit management because they want to plan events or they’re really good leaders and want to build community. So it’s funny that technology led me to nonprofit management, but then I found all of that community development, business development, sense of place and passion. … We have state-of-the-art technology in UCCS Downtown classrooms and conference rooms. Getting faculty comfortable with it and encouraging people to use 6-foot touch pads and the digital white boards to collaborate and share content is definitely going to be something I’m championing. You don’t necessarily think about how technology can level the playing field for sharing your voice, but when everyone gets the opportunity to put their ideas on the screen, there are new ideas.

What are your responsibilities as UCCS Downtown site director?

My new role is all about capturing the influence of the university and spreading that downtown so people can interact with the university and engage in its programs. We can develop the workforce, we can support a thriving downtown. … Right now I am the only employee at UCCS Downtown, so it’s a little independent, but there are so many groups in and out of there.

This spring we have a Wednesday Wellness. We’ll have people doing yoga on their lunch break in the space. We’ll also have people using the space for one-off seminars and weeklong programs with the Better Business Bureau and the Office of Professional Development at UCCS. I’m independent in my role on a daily basis right now, but the programs are coming in and setting up. I’m meeting with this tapestry of characters in our community, from retired military officers and faculty, to artists and community leaders and elected officials.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I have 1,000 words for everything, so that definitely goes into it, but I guess I lead by example. I give and welcome feedback, positive and negative. I always want to know how I can do better or how we could have done more, but I certainly appreciate words of affirmation as well.

So if there’s a style that involves words, passion and example, that would be mine. My co-workers and my husband would laugh if they heard me say that words were my leadership style.

How would you describe the vision you are helping craft for UCCS Downtown?

The university’s vision for their presence downtown is to be a regional stakeholder. The [university wants] people to think of them as a contributor to this community, to not be the campus on the bluff. It wants to be involved in workforce development and crafting community.

I think Colorado Springs is going to continue to thrive. We’re a wonderful town of pro-business policies and a great sense of community. We all have to keep sharing our visions and keep working on our dreams so we can build this community as more folks get here. I’d hate for people to move here and have it stay the same. It needs to evolve, and it is evolving, especially downtown. It is amazing to, even now, walk from business to business or consider living downtown as a young professional. That’s not something that was even possible four or five years ago for a young professional.

Years from now, we may have a whole building downtown with offices and graduate level courses, but right now we’re the most exciting 3,000 square feet on South Tejon Street.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role at the university?

I think organizing all of the passion into something that is executable and having enough stakeholder voice — preserving that stakeholder voice while you’re executing things, and planning for resources is difficult. But if we’re intentional and transparent, I think we can really build something that is very close to that vision. If the vision was, ‘We want a presence downtown, here’s $50,000, make it happen,’ we would have to make compromises, but as long as we’re taking the time to be intentional and transparent, we’re going to be able to foster that a lot better.

What was it like to be nominated for the Mayor’s Young Leader Community and Economic Impact award?

That was amazing and so unexpected. I’m pretty personally impassioned by civics and public affairs. I volunteered on Mayor [John] Suthers’ campaign when he first ran for mayor and believed in him as a leader in our community, so to have somebody that you were rooting for recognize that your efforts created an impact — it was really cool. I was really appreciative and encouraged and empowered to continue working on this community and in this community.

What role do you think young professionals play in shaping the business community?

For a number of years now, the right city leaders and collaborators have been asking the question, ‘What do young professionals want?’ and making sure you’re ready to answer that question when it’s asked is so important. Now that the waves are changing and people are looking to young professionals for ideas, innovation and ownership, I don’t want young professionals to miss the call.

Getting involved in order to formulate an educated voice is really important. Obviously fresh ideas are important too, but having some context behind your answer when people ask, ‘What does the young professional want?’ is really important. There’s so many great organizations here to start getting involved. Those are the places you develop that context. I feel like the doors and windows are open right now to our voice.