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BECOMING A LOCAL: An Interview with Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen


Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen


Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from Detroit. Growing up in the Midwest and moving all over the past 25 years, I certainly gained appreciation for the Midwest. When I came back and interviewed in Cleveland for this position, so much spoke to me. Coming from Detroit, there’s a lot about Cleveland that’s extremely attractive and then some. Coming into Cleveland, my cab driver from the airport spoke at length about complex financing that went into making the flats happen. Everyone I spoke to talked with a passion and excitement about change coming and work underway to make Cleveland great again.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, as a person and professional.
A: I just started working in science centers in 1987, at the Detroit Science Center. I certainly spent some years working in research. I worked under multiple sclerosis clinics doing research, and before that I did some work in pathology. In the end, I have more of an outgoing personality, and working in a lab is not as good of a fit (for me) as being out there, talking about science and getting people excited about it. But, I’ve always focused on sciences.

Q: What made you choose Cleveland?
A: At the same time I was interviewing in Cleveland, I was interviewing in San Diego, and when I’d ask (residents), “Why San Diego?,” they’d look at me like (they were wondering) why I would even ask that. Everyone said, “The weather.” And I said, “That’s nice. I actually like seasons, so what else?” People didn’t have a lot to talk about.

Cleveland has a passion and action. What a great place for my family. My husband is teaching at Cleveland Metro Schools and volunteering. He’s on a non-profit board. There’s such a strong embrace when you come here and show any enthusiasm for what’s going on.

Great Lakes Science Center

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering moving here?

A: I’d say you’re making a great decision. The mix of extraordinary resources from a cultural perspective of museums, art, theater and music—it’s unparalleled, considering the size of the city and the ease that comes with that size. There’s a multitude of options of things to do, and it doesn’t take long to get there or cost much to do it. Jump in; try everything. You’ll soon see there’s more than enough to do. My husband and I call it The Cleveland Problem—we’ll look at our calendar, and there are three things we want to do in a night. It’s a good problem to have.

Q: What’s unique about this city/area?
A: We’re not perfect; we don’t claim to be. We’re pretty upfront about trying to work to solve serious issues in our community. We are optimistic, but pragmatic about making things better. That’s a welcome change from other cities I’ve been to where there’s a bit of a gloss on everything.

Q: What false impressions do you think people have about Cleveland?
A: I used to come to Cleveland as a little kid because my mother grew up here. She went to Detroit for college, and she never moved back. We came here to visit my grandmother. Driving in from Detroit, my most vivid memories of Cleveland were of huge, fierce smokestacks with green, billowing flames. As a child, I have to admit, I was enchanted by that. It looked kind of like Oz to me. That manufacturing rust belt reputation is still what many people think of Cleveland, and that’s changing [now]. But getting beyond the rust belt reputation and the world’s best basketball player—once you scratch the surface, there’s so much more [to Northeast Ohio]. It just takes more than a minute of being [here] to appreciate how much there is.

Q: How do you become a “local” in Cleveland?
A: This is a city that appreciates passion and involvement. I’d say you know you’re a local if you’re serving on a board of a local non-profit. The true mark of Cleveland is a very giving, philanthropic city.

Q: What are the must-dos when in Cleveland for longer than a short trip?
A: If on a short visit you need get to Asiatown—not just the restaurants, but wandering through some of the terrific stores in Asiatown—that’s a must-do. Cleveland Flea is a must-do, too, to see the incredible artisan creativity in this community. You’ve got to get to The Flea. And, you’ve got to get to Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios.

Cleveland City Club

Q: What are your favorite things to do in Northeast Ohio?

A: I’m a huge fan of the City Club. Cleveland City Club is so strong, and we get the most compelling speakers. If I could spend every lunch hour there, I would. That’s my retirement plan. My husband and I will be the little old couple in the corner at every luncheon at City Club. You’ll get a taste of not just important conversations in the region and nation, but also conversation about important issues that Clevelanders want to get to.

My kids and I walk around North Coast Harbor. We’ll hang out at the Science Center, walk over to the Rock and Dock and rent a paddleboat, get lunch at Nuevo, and play volleyball on the courts at Voinovich Park. And you’ve got to include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You can easily fill an entire day with just things at the Harbor.

Q: What don’t people from outside about Cleveland know about the area?

A: People may not realize what a large city Cleveland used to be and how many resources exist around the community from when we were so large. That’s why we have so many museums and such great infrastructure . . . We sustained a huge number of cultural attractions, local non-profits and parks around us. All of that happened because there’s been a concerted effort to keep it alive and well over a century. There’s just no shortage of things to do here.

Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen

Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen serves as the president and CEO of Cleveland’s much-loved Great Lakes Science Center. She has an extensive background in science and research and previously worked at the Detroit Science Center. Now, she loves to be involved in the community, having conversations about how Cleveland can continue to grow and progress, and she makes sure to take advantage of the many things to do in Northeast Ohio.

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