UT alumna Chelsea Collier attributes networking during her college years as number 1 skill

Libby Cohen

In January 2010, UT graduate advertising alumna Chelsea Collier (‘08) found herself longing for Austin’s mild winters as she picked out a coat suitable for Chicago’s weather. Collier had moved to the Windy City to open her own advertising firm, one of several career changes, which contributed to her ability to draw connections between industries. She now runs Digi.City, a civic innovation company aiming to make communities more connected and equitable.

After and during her time at UT, she was given opportunities to connect with various groups, from nonprofits such as Texans for Economic Progress to the Texas State government and startup companies, she said.

In 2016 Collier won an Eisenhower Fellowship, the nonprofit organization that sends fellows abroad to study international practices and was given the opportunity to study the efficiencies of cities in China. Her previous experience came together at this point as she began to analyze not what to do, but rather, best ways to move forward.

“That was a really important point in my career and really in my life because it gave me exposure to people, ideas, networks and a system that I had never seen before,” Collier said.

China and the European Union were 10 years ahead of the United States in city development, which for one included adapting to the fifth generation (5G) of Internet connection, she said.

After each of these facets, Collier said the ability to network was perhaps her most indispensable career skill.

“The networks and the connections that you make through the university platform are as, if not more, important than anything you will learn,” Collier said.

Today, she helps U.S. cities demonstrate how they are drawing connections between sectors to become smarter cities in Digi.City, which is her blog that formed out of her fellowship.

These connections brought her back to UT on Monday night for a talk sponsored by Food+City. This organization was formed in 2011 by Robyn Metcalfe, a professor in the College of Natural Sciences. She said she hoped to merge food systems and urban growth. Metcalfe previously used Collier as a source for building Food+City in 2011 because of Collier’s experience in connecting government policy and economic planning.

“(Collier) looks at developing government policy in order to support what the business community needs in means of innovation,” Metcalfe said.

The development of food technology is one of the many sectors that Collier analyzes in a Smart City.

Nutrition sophomore Valeria Noriega attended the discussion and said she was inspired to expand the uses of her degree, similar to the way Collier has.

“It is important that when students become alumni to not just say, ‘We went to college. Here is our degree,’” Noriega said, “But (to) actually start doing things that change the world or open people’s eyes to be more innovative.”

Collier said she cannot predict where she is going next, however, she acknowledges her indecisive career path led her to the job she loves today.

“Be ambitious about the things that are important to you, and understand what your personal values are, and be unapologetic about just going for it,” Collier said. “Whatever is in your way, find a way to get around it, and you have to be creative about it.”