Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, a pioneer in the development of career information systems, is an internationally recognized authority in career development. President of the National Career Development Association (1996-97) and Trustee of the American Counseling Association Governing Council, JoAnn received the Eminent Career Award from the National Career Development Association; and the ACT President’s Merit Award. Having led the development of the computer-based system, DISCOVER, she was widely published in academic journals and texts including co-authoring Career Interventions in the 21st Century. With Dr. David Reile and Dr. Barbara Suddarth, JoAnn formed the nonprofit Career Development Leadership Alliance, and served as Executive Director of product development at Kuder, Inc.
This is the fifth in a series of interviews with experienced NCDA leaders as they offer insights about “later chapters” and navigating a lifetime of transitions.
What helped you to gain your voice within the field?
As a Director of Guidance in the early sixties, I became very interested in career counseling and guidance due to reading ACT’s research reports about John Holland’s theory. Being an IS (Investigative-Social) Holland type, I imagined how mainframe computers could assist assessment and occupational and postsecondary education exploration. Donald E. Super, doing similar work with IBM invited me to meet with an eminent group discussing this technology. This conference was the beginning of many years of mentorship from and friendship with Dr. Super and Dr. David Tiedeman.
A funded proposal from the Illinois State Board of Vocational Education led a team to meet and develop one of the first technology-based delivery systems, the Computerized Vocational Information System (CVIS). This gave me a voice within the field through publications and a demonstration center at my high school.
What authors, mentors, and experiences most shaped your career development work/practice?
John Holland’s theory and work as well as David and Anna Tiedeman’s work on decision making influenced me greatly. Donald Super’s work on life stages, developmental tasks, and especially the Life-Career Rainbow formed a structure for both the technology-based content and print curriculum that I authored. For adult systems, the transition theory of Dr. Nancy Schlossberg influenced me and was incorporated into my work.
To what degree have you lived a life following what you professed about career development principles?
Being a Holland IS (Investigative Social) personality type and a math/science major in college, I faced career choice as a logical process, one to be taught and lived as a series of rational steps, steps in which data was turned into meaningful information upon which to base decisions. As I look back on my life, however, I realize that the most significant turning points in my career were not planned by me but were offered to me. These include a chance meeting while on vacation with the man who became my husband; the offering of merger into ACT; the opportunity to write the Career Advisor curriculum for the U.S. prison system and for Japan; an unexpected invitation to become the co-author with Dr. Spencer Niles of a major textbook; and the offer to work for Kuder, Inc., a move which has allowed my work to be distributed internationally.
What have you learned about/from fear, self-doubt, confidence and power?
I haven’t experienced fear in my work, though I have certainly experienced self-doubt. I was raised by a single mom with a poor self-concept. She had a lot of determination, however, that my life would be better than hers. She was a constant encourager who helped me to develop a strong self-concept…as did my professional mentors. As my career evolved and professionals and students/adults used the materials that I have developed, my confidence in myself and in my ability to produce useful materials grew.
In hindsight, what opportunities might you have taken that you passed on?
Like everyone else of my age, it is far easier to see the pattern of my life as I look backward than as I look forward. Looking backward, I see phenomenal choice points, and I’m happy to say that by God’s guidance, I have followed the path in each case that has led me to a happy and productive life. I don’t think I missed any opportunities that would have been desirable.
What natural tensions have been a theme in your life?
The first theme is Work vs. Play. I lived on an Arkansas farm in my childhood. My mother was gone some hours of each day, caring for an ill father who lived on an adjoining farm. She posted a blackboard in the kitchen which had a list for me to accomplish each day before I could play, beginning when I was 5-6 years old. I still have that blackboard and value it…but I was almost 60 years old when I realized, due to Mark Savickas’ work, that I had lived my life by that rule. The result was that I got an awful lot of work done, but often not much play!
A second theme has been balancing personal time and priorities with care for parents. My husband Stan and I were both only children, each with a widowed mother. We took care of both mothers in our home until their death – one at 89 and the other at 100+. Both were in our home for 12 years, and one for an additional 15 years.
What are your thoughts about what’s ahead for you?
I am now 85. I worked quite a full schedule until about two years ago. Though my name is still on Kuder’s website, I only serve on its Research Faculty. My last project with Kuder was the development of an extensive career guidance curriculum now in use in schools in Rwanda, accompanied by a supportive web-based system. I suspect that this is the last of tens of such systems that I have developed. For the first time in my life I find myself ready to stop working. I have always loved my work, but I am now content to experience the feeling that I have made some contribution to the world. I believe that there is an even better place where I will spend my future. I am not afraid of death, but I am concerned about the pain that may lie between now and then. I have added space to my Maryland home to make it very comfortable for older age, have adequate long-term care insurance, and a loving companion who is willing to oversee my care. That’s probably as good as it gets.
How is your biological clock impacting your choices?
I lost my husband in 2008. We had planned to buy a place in a warmer climate, but he had his first stroke the day before his mother’s funeral. Nonetheless, two years later I decided that I could enjoy Florida alone. So, I bought a condo on the Caloosahatchie River not far from the Gulf of Mexico and took my five-pound poodle and my boat with me. I have had nine enjoyable winters there, and I will continue to enjoy what that place has to offer as long as I can.
What advice do you offer your younger self?
Attempt to find life balance related to marriage, family, work, and community – Super’s Career Rainbow.
What’s the most critical advice you want to share with new professionals in our field?
Be aware of the tremendous influence your life can have on your family and on those who are your students, clients, or counselees. Give all of the intensity and quality that you have to family relationships and client/student services. If you can do this, you may be able to say what my husband Stan said as his last words: “…and we have kept all of our responsibilities.”
What one sentence would you use to describe the legacy that you hope to leave to the field?
Despite the many demands on our field, be mindful that an individual’s’ choice of occupation and educational options is one of the top three decisions that he or she will make in life – having great influence on life satisfaction. Make time to offer services in the career development area, making use of a planned combination of delivery modes (one-on-one counseling, group work, curriculum, technology-based systems) that will serve the highest possible number of people.
Rich Feller, Ph.D., is a former NCDA President, Professor of Counseling and Career Development and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar Emeritus at Colorado State University, and recipient of the NCDA Eminent Career Award. Contact Rich.Feller@colostate.edu and www.richfeller.com