Humphrey School News—May 15, 2018

Looking Ahead with Alumna Emma Olson


A portrait of Humphrey School alumna Emma Olson
Emma Olson (MPP '18) is working for Hennepin County's Center of Innovation and Excellence.

We caught up with Emma Olson, president of the Public Affairs Student Association in 2017-18, as she was getting ready to graduate in May 2018.

Degree: MPP ’18 with concentrations in social policy and nonprofit & public leadership (“Neither on its own was enough”).

Why the Humphrey School?

After I graduated from Beloit College, I didn’t know exactly where I was headed. I knew I was going into social change or public sector work and needed time to figure out what that journey was going to look like for me. So I did two years of Americorps Vista in Minneapolis. By my second year I knew I wanted to continue to build skills, and I’d identified the Humphrey as a place to be, thanks to many people I talked to. I knew if I wanted to make positive social change in Minnesota through nonprofits, government, etc.,  I needed to go to the Humphrey School to do it at the level I hoped to do it.

What She Did Here

I know I’ve grown a lot. When I first started, I didn’t realize what being a student at Humphrey meant in terms of the opportunities we had. During my first year I worked on an event on mass incarceration in Minnesota. We had more than 150 people attend, including the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. If I hadn’t been at Humphrey I wouldn’t have had an avenue to do that kind of work.

I’ve also sharpened my skills around leadership and management. In my first year at Humphrey, I was the equity and inclusion officer for PASA (Public Affairs Student Association), and then became president this year. In PASA we took on more of an advocacy role this year, specifically on the potential repeal of DACA and the federal tax bill; providing resources to the student community, like how to plan an event and get funding for it, and how to get involved in local politics. Students know what impact they want to make, but they need resources to do programs.

I can’t say enough good about the student community. How do we talk about racial and economic justice? Everyone here is on their own journey around that. What gives me hope is seeing many students who came in together from different places, now committed to doing that work. It says a lot about the students, and a lot about where we’re heading in reaffirming that commitment.

What’s Next?

I’ll be working with Hennepin County. I interned there in their human resources department doing workforce development, and am moving into a position with the Center of Innovation and Excellence as an innovation by design specialist. We operate as an internal consulting firm doing strategy, evaluation, and research. I’ll be working on a team that uses human-centered design in various forms throughout the county. It’s projects, it’s facilitation and training, and because I did a social policy concentration I’ll be doing a fair amount of evaluation and data analysis.

What She’s Taking Away from the Humphrey School

One of my favorite professors is Melissa Stone. I took Management of Organizations with her my first semester and I was a TA for her this past fall. Her class has informed so much of how I view organizations, how to make change, how to be with other people. It’s Management of Organizations, but we learn about the interpersonal pieces of it, which I think are often left out.

I think Professor Stone has this amazing ability to push people to think more broadly. She does this thing where you’ll be talking in class and make a statement, and she’ll ask, “Can you say another sentence?” It’s amazing what an impact that simple question has, and I’ve been using that a lot. Asking people to say what they’re feeling is really important in policy processes, and any processes.

I took Managing Conflict: Negotiation with Margaret Anderson Kelliher, which was amazing. She’s just a powerhouse. I think she’s also an instructor who pushes you to be better, go for it, lean into your own growth, which I really appreciate.

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