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Pathways Center helps build a fully integrated educational experience
Branden Grimmett

Branden Grimmett leads Emory University’s new Pathways Center, which helps students connect to opportunities at Emory and visualize how they can apply their liberal arts education to life postgraduation. 

— Emory Photo Video

Emory University’s new Pathways Center launched Aug. 1 with the arrival of Branden Grimmett, Emory’s new vice provost for career and professional development and Emory College associate dean.

The Pathways Center, an integral part of the university-wide Student Flourishing Initiative, unites for the first time existing resources and programs from Emory College of Arts and Sciences and Campus Life — including career services, experiential learning, national scholarships and fellowship, pre-health advising and undergraduate research — under one “roof.”

That integration will help students make better connections to the opportunities offered at Emory and visualize how they can apply their liberal arts education to potential professions and to lives of meaning and consequence postgraduation. 

Pathways’ resources will be available to all Emory College students and alumni, while also serving graduate students as well as undergraduates in other units.

“We are building a culture of collaboration and trust starting on day one,” says Grimmett. “We can’t do this alone, so we welcome new ideas, collaborators, feedback and questions.”

Grimmett recently sat down for a Q&A about how the new Pathways Center amplifies Emory’s liberal arts excellence and builds a fully integrated educational experience. Responses have been edited for space.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you got here.

I could never have imagined when I was 22 years old that as a music and religion double major I would be leading what we call the Pathways Center. But looking back, I see the connections that led me to this point.

I have been working in higher education career services for more than 15 years, at six different private liberal arts institutions. My own personal experience as a theologian and musician has been helpful in navigating conversations with students and families, about their concerns around how a college student discerns their career path. I was more than my major and so are students today.

Investment in education is not always immediately seen as valuable on the day you take a course or graduate. Most students I’ve worked with look back on their time in college, and they really do see the value of what they learned. More importantly, they differentiate their own preparedness in the workplace compared to people who have not had a liberal arts education. Every Emory College graduate’s greatest asset is their liberal arts education.

Q: The Pathways Center is an entirely new entity and approach to the student experience for the university and for Emory College of Arts and Sciences in particular. When asked what the Pathways Center is, what is your elevator pitch?

The Pathways Center elevator pitch: “We are a center that provides resources and experiences for Emory College students and alumni to help them reach their full potential.” The Pathways Center will do this in a number of ways. We want to serve as a national model for higher education by seamlessly preparing students for and connecting them to local, national, and global internships, graduate and professional schools, post-graduate fellowships and full-time employment.

The offices that compose the Pathways Center — career services, undergraduate research, national scholarships and fellowships, pre-health advising and experiential learning — are all connected through the new center, so that students don’t carry the burden of navigating this themselves, but instead can rely on the institution to remove some of the obstacles for them.

Finally, we want the center to serve as a single hub for recruiting Emory talent and attracting top employers in every industry, locally, nationally and globally.

Q: One of the bigger changes is that the Career Center has moved from Campus Life and is now based in Emory College. What impact will that change have for Emory College students?

The fact that the Career Center is now a part of the academic experience of Emory means that we can more closely tie classroom learning to the skills that will help students solve some of the biggest problems in the world.

We will be realigning our work to be more closely integrated with academic departments, ensuring faculty understand what the Pathways Center is doing and how it can be helpful to their teaching, and working together to identify ways we can help each other.

This will involve inviting faculty to our inaugural Career Trek program. We will be taking students to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC, to meet with alumni employers. We will bring faculty with us so that they can see how their teaching is applied in the workplace and how it benefits liberal arts graduates who are now in leadership roles.

Q: Beyond career preparation, how do you envision the Pathways Center will impact the overall liberal arts experience of our students and help them flourish?

Career preparation involves what the career center is doing with our students, but that represents only one of five areas of the Pathways Center.

Undergraduate research also lives in the Pathways Center. It is important for our students to get involved in research as early as they can. It’s also important for them to be able to conduct research on and off campus and for us to provide funding for students to be able to say yes to those opportunities.

Through national scholarships and fellowships, Emory students can compete for post-graduate and current opportunities. While many scholarships and fellowships occur after graduation, some of the work involves faculty collaboration and it involves students thinking about how those fellowships might impact their future career growth and plans.

We are already raising money to help remove obstacles to students’ ability to build experience and to discern their career path. To be able to say yes to a dream internship in say, London, or to be able to conduct research in South America; all of these will be funded opportunities through the Pathways Center. We are looking to remove financial obstacles for students and to work with our alumni population to raise money, so that Emory students can say yes to all of those experiences.

Q: Emory’s focus on excellent liberal arts education has long meant it views education as a public good, not a private transaction. How do we counteract an increasingly skeptical public that sees college as a transactional experience?

The best way to counteract that is to look at the alumni of Emory College. We have a population of students who successfully launch after graduation by fully leveraging their liberal arts education to lead companies, governments, communities and international bodies.

Emory College alumni are leaders because they have an ability to navigate ambiguity due to their liberal arts education. They are adept in approaching difficult situations with empathy and understanding. At the same time, they have developed the technical skills in their majors that allow them to lead with expertise.

Everything we do in the Pathways Center will involve alumni, because they are the nearest expression of what our students’ hopes and dreams are.

Q: How do you plan to demonstrate to students how Emory’s commitment to liberal arts education, and the skills they gain in critical thinking, communication, team building, etc., can translate into potential careers in any field?

We want students to understand that their liberal arts skills are the same skills that employers are looking for in all jobs. The National Association of College and Employers has a set of career competencies that map very cleanly with liberal arts skills. Employers recruit and evaluate early talent based on these competencies.

The good news is that most employers looking for recent college graduates or interns, are really measuring the fit for jobs in the same way that students are being evaluated in their curriculum. When students successfully complete their time at Emory, whether they know it or not, they will also have prepared for navigating the workplace.

Career discernment is not a cerebral activity. It requires action. The action that needs to be taken involves students reaching out to alumni from their major to learn about their career path. It involves students practicing how to articulate what they did in their internship. How do you describe it on a resume? How do you express it on a LinkedIn profile? How do I talk about it in an interview? How do you share the experience with the faculty that helped you secure the opportunity?  

It’s not just about helping students land jobs or internships or research. Reflection and action helps them connect the dots from what they learn in the classroom to what they are doing to express those skills in a workplace setting.

Q: Emory Advantage expanded this fall to eliminate need-based loans and replace them with institutional grants and scholarships, which is helping to address equity and access gaps for many of our students, but challenges remain. How will the Pathways Center help address those gaps, especially for first-generation students?

We will build community with populations that have similar challenges or opportunities. We want to create programming for these populations, so we can speak directly to the challenges they face and connect them with those who can help them overcome those challenges.

On the financial side, it’s important to know that the Pathways Center will be giving out dollars to support students pursuing these experiences. Eighty percent of employers expect our students to complete one or more internships before they consider hiring them. Yet we know students are often deciding between being fully immersed as a student on campus and working a part-time job.

We want to make sure that Emory students are able to do the kind of work that doesn’t just earn them money, but also allows them to discern a meaningful career path. We will have funding to support students pursuing unpaid or under-paid internships and students who are pursuing research. Our goal is to remove as many barriers as we can with funding, while also providing students with a robust learning experience.

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