Later Chapters with Dr. Norm Gysbers
By Rich Feller
Dr. Norm Gysbers is recognized both nationally and internationally as one of the foremost scholars in school counseling and career counseling/development. His work influenced the development of the National Model for School Counseling Programs which became the adopted model for other countries to follow. Moving school counseling from “random acts of guidance” to a planned program of services whose effects could be measured, his work made it possible for guidance services to be accountable. Dr. Gysbers served as the editor of the Career Development Quarterly, the Journal of Career Development, and co-authored one of the most authoritative textbooks on career counseling, Career Counseling: Processes, Issues and Techniques.
Honored as a Distinguished Curators Professor at the University of Missouri in 2008, his list of awards includes the Mary Gehrke Lifetime Achievement Award from ACA; President’s Award for a Lifetime Commitment to Career Development as well as the Eminent Career Award both from NCDA; Distinguished Faculty Award from the University of Missouri; and the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.
This is the fourth in the Career Convergence series of interviews with experienced NCDA leaders as they offer insights about “later chapters” and navigating a lifetime of transitions. This project hopes to add to the knowledge base of ageless aging, transitions, and questions critical to developing career development leaders.
What helped you to gain a voice within the field?
When I was a doctoral student at the University of Michigan I served as a graduate assistant in one of the first National Defense Education Act Institutes. Later in my graduate work I became a Lecturer in Education in another National Defense Education Act Institute under the direction of Garry Walz. Still as a graduate student, I became editor of the Vocational Guidance Quarterly (now the Career Development Quarterly) from 1962 to 1970. These experiences and the people I worked with as a graduate student brought me directly into professional association work which then resulted in my running for and winning presidencies in National Career Development Association and American Counseling Association.
What authors, mentors, and experiences most shaped your career development work/practice?
I entered the field as a result of the encouragement of my brother-in-law Tolan Chappell. Upon graduation from Hope College in 1954 I taught 4th grade and junior high science in Michigan. While I was teaching, Tolan suggested that I should go on for a graduate degree in counseling at the University of Michigan. I applied for entrance in 1956 but I was drafted and spent two years in the Army Artillery in Germany. Upon release from the Army in 1958, I enrolled at the University of Michigan. My mentors there were Delmont K. Byrn, Edward Roeber and Garry Walz. My work in National Defense Education Act Institutes at Michigan, as an Editor, and later as an association President all shaped me as a professional. My colleagues at the University of Missouri also played a substantial role in this process over 52 years at the University of Missouri.
To what degree have you lived a life following what you professed about your career development principles?
I have always viewed career development as a life-long learning process. As a result, I sought opportunities to continue to learn about ways to grow personally and professionally. Being an active participant in association work and by having a career as a professor, I was able to extend and expand my self-understanding and my professional knowledge and skills. Association work opened many doors for me to learn about my discipline and national, state, and local policies and practices. Work as a professor opened many doors and taught me how to connect and work effectively with students. Being an author provided me with the discipline and direction for my writing, helping me classify and sharpen my thoughts. Service taught me how to connect and interact with other professionals and with organizations internationally, nationally, and locally. Being open to and taking advantage of opportunities was my key to life-long learning.
What have you learned about/from fear, self-doubt, confidence and power?
When I found myself considering a professional opportunity, my first feelings were fear and self-doubt, believing that I would not be successful. What I learned was that the best way to deal with these feelings was to say yes rather than no, take on the opportunity seeing it as a challenge, and learn from it even if I failed. It gave me a way to become involved. By becoming involved I began to understand what the opportunity was and what the tasks were that needed to be completed. I realized that with hard work I could be successful. By taking it on, I gained self-confidence and began to feel that I had the power to successfully complete the tasks involved.
In hindsight, what opportunities might you have taken that you passed on?
While in the Army, I passed up an opportunity to enroll in officer’s candidate school because I felt that the Army was not part of my future. As a professor at the University of Missouri I had several opportunities to become a department chair. I declined those opportunities because I wanted to continue my teaching, research, and service as a professor. I did not want to lose direct contact with students and the opportunities to continue my writing, research, and professional service.
What natural tensions have been a theme in your life?
As an active professional one of the constant tensions was balancing career and family. Professional work often required extensive travel taking me away from home, my wife, and my family. I tried to counter that by being home as much as I could and by taking my wife and sometimes my children with me on trips. Another tension was balancing the work of a professor; teaching, research, and service. I tried to always be careful in the assignments I took on to not focus on only one, neglecting the other two.
What are your thoughts about what is ahead for you?
The major goal in my life is to serve God through continued service to the profession of school counseling and all of the children, adolescents, and adults whose lives are directly influenced by the work of school counselors. While I want to continue to do some professional work, I do want to spend more time with my wife and family.
How is your biological clock impacting your choice?
While I am slowing down, I continue to be active in some professional work. I have learned the importance of exercise including stretching and lifting weights. Two years ago, at age 83 I decided to become a power lifter and I competed in a bench press and dead lift meet in Missouri where I won two gold medals. Also, I am increasingly less interested in doing the extensive traveling I did in the past.
What’s the most critical advice you want to share with new professionals in our field?
Understand the importance of time. The successful completion of most projects requires time-on-task. “It isn’t the 100th strike that cracks the rock, it is the 99 strikes before that.” I offer the word perseverance to them. It means continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. It is persistence and tenacity in following your passion.
What one sentence would you use to describe the legacy that you hope to leave the field?
It is my hope that all schools will have comprehensive developmental school counseling programs that are fully implemented by school counselors and are designed to impact the academic, career, and social/emotional learnings of all students toward the goal of student success.
Rich Feller, PhD., is NCDA Past-President, Professor Emeritus of Counseling and Career Development and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Colorado State University, and recipient of the NCDA Eminent Lifetime Career Award. Contact: Rich.Feller@colostate.edu and www.richfeller.com