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The EMP and Career Discovery in Higher Ed: A Conversation with EMP Practitioner Margaret Bransford

By EMP Staff

Our staff recently sat down with EMP Certified Practitioner Margaret Bransford, Associate Director, Entrepreneurship & Outreach at the Piper Center for Vocation and Career at St. Olaf College. Founded in 1874 by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, St. Olaf is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota. Margaret shares how she uses the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile® (EMP) in several unique programs to help students learn about the entrepreneurial mindset and explore different career paths.

EMP: So nice to talk with you today, Margaret. Your background is perfect for your current role. Tell us a little bit about how you got here.

Bransford: I’ve had three previous roles that really prepared me for my current position: I worked as a management consultant which included projects in organizational development and human resources, I have been a career coach with a business school and I co-founded a software start-up. My job is a wonderful combination of my entrepreneurial experience and my passion for coaching students.

EMP: I understand that you are using the EMP in at least three distinct ways at St. Olaf, one of which is when you partner with faculty members to add to their courses. How does that work?

Bransford: At St. Olaf, entrepreneurship is under the umbrella of the Career Center so although I am part of the college staff, I work closely with our faculty to provide co-curricular programming. We have a J-term where students take one class for one month, and since faculty can be very creative and innovative in designing activities for these courses, I’ve used the EMP in several of them to complement the curriculum. One example is a physics course focused on new product development which is very accessible to any student of any discipline. Another course, New Venture Formulation, is offered by entrepreneurship faculty as part of our management studies. In both of these courses, I start by presenting to the students the basics of entrepreneurship and what St. Olaf offers. Then I introduce the EMP using the materials that are available to Certified Practitioners, but I try to tailor them to the students’ experiences asking questions such as “What skills might you be stronger in?” “What skills do your team members have?” “What skills might you be using over the next four weeks, etc.?” Then we go into a deeper dive when I have a half-hour, one-on-one session with each student. I usually send out their reports about 20-30 minutes before our session so some students have had a quick peek at their results, and others have not.

EMP: Tell me more about the one-on-one sessions.

Bransford: I usually start off reminding them of some of the key points from my classroom presentation and ask them if they have questions about any of the scales. If they haven’t looked at the report yet, I ask them to guess what their higher and lower scores are, and, of course, often there is good discussion around that regardless of how the report comes out. I always prepare by reviewing their report ahead of time, marking specific points in the Development Guide that I think would be helpful to them and then asking a lot of questions related to their major, career direction, internship opportunities, etc. Many of the students are sophomores at this point, so it’s very timely. These career conversations are often focused more on the Personality scales, and then when we get to the Skills scales, we talk about them in terms of how they can use these skills in the class. Both of the courses I mentioned earlier emphasize the design thinking process and ideation, so these conversations tend to highlight Future Focus, Idea Generation and Execution. Since the courses involve a lot of team-based projects, I often ask the students to think about what role they might play on their team. I also have them think about how the results might help if conflict comes up on a team and look at complementary skill sets—Execution vs. Future Focus or Self-Confidence vs. Interpersonal Sensitivity, for example. I encourage the students to share their results with other team members if they want to but remind them that they can keep them confidential if they prefer.

EMP: That’s all very interesting, Margaret, and I’m sure the students benefit a great deal from those individual sessions. Now you also have an Innovation Scholars Program that incorporates the EMP. What’s the gist of that program?

Bransford: This program originated with a partnership we had with the Mayo Clinic where selected students would work on a six-week, new venture project. It has now grown to include several other programs including one in Norway and other medical device start-ups locally. We use a similar process with the EMP, but in these programs we sometimes do a post-assessment at the end of the project as well as an hour-long one-on-one session.

EMP: Any themes on the post-assessment?

Bransford: Interestingly, we usually see one or two of the Skills scales go up and sometimes a slight difference in some of the Personality scales.

EMP: With the longer one-on-one session, I imagine you’re able to go into more depth with each student?

Bransford: Definitely! With the longer session, students have more time to reflect on their experience, think about what skills they used, what skills they’ve developed and then apply that to their resume and what they want to do in the future. One of the more interesting outcomes is when a student comes to the realization that they don’t want to work with a start-up. And then, conversely, some students think, “Wow, this was really fun, and I want to do this as my career!”

EMP: Any other lessons from this program?

Bransford: We’ve learned that blending the EMP instrument with experiential learning (working with a company on an internship or a specific project with a client) is a really powerful combination because students can see direct applications to their results. When I’ve used the instrument in a semester course where there is little teamwork or experiential exercises, it doesn’t seem to resonate as much.

EMP: So your third program is the Entrepreneurship Scholars Program which is a really cool opportunity for students. Tell us why this is a win-win for everyone involved.

Bransford: This is a summer program we have which was funded by a generous donor. Students apply for paid internships ($4,000/summer) to work with local start-ups. This is a wonderful initiative for equity, access and diversity because many students need to have jobs in the summer to make money for tuition, and many times the start-ups are underfunded, so as you mentioned, it works out well for all sides. Typically, we have 10 students and 10 start-ups, but because of the COVID situation, last year we were able to get funding for 18 students and 16 startups. The students meet in groups of three once a week, and they can ask a career coach to join them. We usually have a weekly “coffee chat” around an entrepreneurship topic, and one of those will focus on the EMP. Students can always request additional coaching sessions. I met with one particularly dedicated student about five times.

EMP: With all of your experience with the EMP, what have you found to be the biggest benefit of the tool?

Bransford: I think it really helps with self-awareness and discernment around career directions. We have had extremely fruitful conversations around this with a variety of different students, many of which are not majoring in business or entrepreneurship. So many students are just wanting to learn, and they realize that these foundational skills and this mindset can help them be successful no matter what their career path is. For example, aspiring artists gain a great deal from the instrument because they might be thinking about being a solopreneur or a freelancer. It has been fascinating to me to see how wide the applications are for the EMP.

EMP: Thanks so much, Margaret, for your time today and all of your insights. We’re so thrilled to have you as part of our cadre of EMP Certified Practitioners. Best of luck to you!

Margaret Bransford of St. Olaf College

Margaret Bransford is Associate Director, Entrepreneurship and Outreach at the Piper Center for Vocation and Career at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. She can be reached at [email protected].

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The Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile® (EMP) [] is an excellent way to get an in-depth view of the entrepreneurial mindset and see how your personality traits and skill sets compare to those of corporate managers and entrepreneurs. Available online, the EMP provides scores on 14 different scales including Risk Acceptance, Passion, Need to Achieve, Future Focus, Idea Generation and Persistence among others. The EMP Feedback Report comes with a debrief video and a comprehensive Development Guide for continuous improvement.

Want to learn more about EMP Certification and how you can use it in your organization? Email us at [email protected] or visit the Certification page of the EMP website to see how you can start using the EMP with your clients and students.