In honor of Women’s History Month, we jumped at the opportunity to interview Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, one of the few female pioneers in the field of career guidance.
What excites you most about the work you do?
There are very few life decisions more important than choosing how to spend most of your waking hours; that is, what you will do in work. So, the most exciting part about my work is to feel that I can have some impact on helping people make informed, and hopefully satisfying, choices in that area of their lives.
You held a number of leadership positions in the field of career guidance prior to joining Kuder nearly ten years ago. Of all of the work you've done, what makes you the most proud?
There is really no ONE answer to that question, but I can at least give you the top three! Being able to develop web-based systems that have been and are currently being used by millions of students and adults (both with Kuder and with ACT, Inc.) is probably number one.
That is followed by the joy of having written the curriculum for training career advisors, now more than 12,000, in Japan. And third, I was the lead author of the curriculum commissioned by the U.S. Department of Corrections for training staff that works with ex-offenders as they make their transition from incarceration to independence. That training program has had expansive influence on the kind of support that ex-offenders receive as they attempt to make this transition.
What first led you to the field of career guidance? What's kept you in it?
I was a young director of guidance in the 1960s when John Holland developed his theory of occupational personalities and environments. As a result of his research, ACT began to release reports about the effectiveness of his theory and assessment in helping college students choose a major and make an occupational choice.
I was struggling with how to provide career services to a large student body in a cost-effective way. At the same time, I and members of my counseling staff were considering how to use the computer to help students with educational and career planning. These events culminated when I received a large grant to pursue the development of one of the first computer-based systems, using Holland as a consultant in developing that system, and then in becoming a member of a small group of preeminent career development theorists (including Donald Super and David Tiedeman) who took me on as a mentee.
[Due to] the wonderful support that I have received for my work over the years, especially from ACT and Kuder, I have sustained a zeal for my work, even at my present age.
Do you have any career aspirations that you haven't fulfilled?
I love teaching. The chapter of my life in which I did a lot of “college professing” was a very satisfying one. Now that Kuder is providing Career Advisor Training in faraway places – such as Qatar, Dubai, and Singapore – I find myself wishing that I could be a part of that.
[Editor's note: Dr. Harris-Bowlsbey served as the curriculum developer for Kuder Career Advisor Training®.]
1969: As director of guidance at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, she provides instruction on the Computerized Vocational Information System (CVIS).
In honor of Women's History Month, we're curious about your female role models through the years.
My best female role model was my mother, Annie. She was a single mom struggling hard to have the resources to provide me with a good education. She was a model of time management, task completion, money management, and the point of view that women needed to be prepared, if necessary, to manage their own lives without male support.
In what ways has facilitating career development evolved over the years as the workplace has changed in response to social, political, and economic shifts – not to mention technology?
One of the big changes in my lifetime is the fact that career change is inevitable. We used to talk about making a career choice and then it was assumed that one would remain in that occupation and try to make upward moves with age and experience.
Today we are trying to help people make a career choice for the present and be ready [for the next one] through lifelong learning, transferrable skills, and adaptability skills to make multiple career changes across the life span, which may be a sequence of lateral moves.
Care to reflect on the career choices available for women today compared to when you were in college in the 1950s?
In the 50s, I was aware that I could be a secretary, a nurse, a teacher, or a missionary. I think that most women had a similar restricted view of their options. I was very interested in becoming a medical doctor, but the financial resources to support that idea were not there, nor were there many female doctors.
Because of the need for scientists during that period, my mother really pushed me to major in chemistry; however, I wanted to teach Spanish, so the result was that I had a double major. I later entered the field of school counseling around the time when the National Defense Education Act of 1958 took effect. The school principal called me in and said, “You seem to get along well with kids, and they hang around your classroom after school. I'd like you to start getting a master's degree this summer and be a counselor next fall.”
And so it was that a person who believes in planful decision-making skills has again and again in her career just said “yes” to opportunities that were offered to her!