The Eminent Career Award: A Past Chairman's Perspective

Robert Reardon

The NCDA Eminent Career Award is arguably the most prestigious award in the field of career development and vocational psychology in the U.S., and it is clearly the oldest. The first recipient in 1966 was Anne Roe, who was followed by 39 other distinguished persons , most recently Mark Pope in 2008 and Rich Feller in 2009. Much of what we currently know and do in career counseling and research was first shaped and refined by this distinguished group of leaders and scholars.


NCDA offers the Eminent Career Award partly to fulfill the mission statement: to provide "service to the public and professionals involved with or interested in career development, including recognition for achievement and service". NCDA members accomplish the association's mission and goals by serving in various roles in the field of career development. It succeeds as an organization because its members volunteer on numerous committees. But there is one NCDA committee that is unique: not one of its members volunteered to serve and the committee chair changes every year. I'm referring to the Eminent Career Award committee.

I chaired the Eminent Career Award (ECA) committee in 2008, the last year of my committee membership, after joining the committee and being an award recipient in 2003. Because the work of the ECA committee is unique, I would like to share some things I learned during my five years of service. My purpose is to emphasize the value of the award, increase members' understanding of the Eminent Career Award itself, and highlight the current procedures by which the committee accomplishes its work.

Integrity and Standards

I believe this award is precious to NCDA and to the entire career development field, and I know that the members of the ECA committee feel a unique and important responsibility to maintain the integrity and standards that have been established. In my five years of service, I had the opportunity to work with JoAnn Bowlsbey, Duane Brown, Jane Goodman, Thomas Harrington, Spencer Niles, Lee Richmond, and James Sampson, Jr. I knew some of them well and some I did not know at all before we began our work on this committee. We came from different parts of the country, had varied work experiences, and held both similar and divergent views about the career field. Fate brought us to serve on this committee but we had a common mission, to sustain and enhance the Eminent Career Award. Working on this committee was an unexpected highlight of my professional life.

One of the special privileges of ECA committee service is reading the materials submitted to support the award nominees each year. Reading these documents, vita and letters of support, made me aware of the extraordinary accomplishments of the nominees that I would probably never have known otherwise. Moreover, it made me very proud of our field and what we do. Happily, we have an opportunity to gather and celebrate those accomplishments at the NCDA Awards Luncheon each year at the Global Conference.

Challenges with the Unique Award

But the committee work was challenging at times because only one award could be given each year, and we were mindful that we were not required to give an award every year. This situation led to some difficult decisions for committee members, as well as disappointments among those nominated and not receiving an award.

Partly as a result of these experiences, efforts to improve ECA nomination procedures were initiated. First, explicit evidence of a nominee's contributions in Theory, Practice, Leadership, and Scholarship are examined. These contributions should be frequent, noteworthy, and sustained over a substantial period of time.

Second, we created a three-stage nomination process. The initial stage involves a letter by March 1st to the NCDA Executive Director specifying how a nominee meets the award criteria. This step makes certain that the nominee meets all of the requirements for the award and it simplifies the nomination process. Moreover, it limits the time and effort required to initiate the award process on the part of the nominator, e.g., support letters that come later in stage two.

Following the initial review, up to three detailed and complete nomination packets are solicited for submission to the committee by May 1st. This second stage involves 1-3 letters and a customized vita including eight categories of information. In this stage of review, the committee is focused on facts and data related to the nominees' contributions to the field in theory, practice, leadership, and scholarship. In the past, the ECA committee was flooded with up to 20 letters of support for a nominee, which created a kind of halo effect and the aura of a campaign. The final stage of the award process involves a decision by the committee on or about May 23rd.

The ECA committee has worked to refine these procedures for two years, and generally believes they have improved the efficiency of the nomination process, and have provided more focus and direction for those seeking to nominate persons for the Eminent Career Award. Further details about these procedures are available from NCDA, and should be followed closely by those involved in the Eminent Career Award process.

Call to Embrace the Award

My hope is that NCDA members will undertake an annual, wide-ranging "environmental scan" of mentors, colleagues, leaders, and significant others who merit recognition by this distinguished award. Potential nominees include members of NCDA for five continuous years, living or deceased, with no specification regarding nationality. I challenge us all to embrace the Eminent Career Award and to continue to cherish its meaning.

Robert Reardon, Ph.D., is a retired professor and program director in the Career Center at Florida State University where he presently holds an appointment as senior research associate. He received the Eminent Career Award from NCDA in 2003. He can reached at rreardon@fsu.edu

Editor's note: this article originally appeared here in October 2008.

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