Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Donald Edwin Super: The Career of a Planful Explorer

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Donald Edwin Super: The Career of a Planful Explorer

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1934, a young counselor, who specialized in job placement as an assistant employment secretary at the Cleveland YMCA, attended the annual meeting of the National Vocational Guidance Association (NVGA) held in Cleveland, Ohio, with the goal of providing himself with in-service training. He found the meeting so intellectually stimulating and collegial that he joined NVGA (now the National Career Development Association [NCDA]) that autumn. He missed NVGA conferences in 1939 and 1959 but attended all of the rest and presented at most, through and including the 1992 NCDA conference in Baltimore. This dedicated member of NCDA received the NVGA Merit Award at the 1963 convention (Boston), served as 50th president of NVGA (1969 to 1970), and received the NVGA Eminent Career Award at the 1972 convention (Chicago). When discussing NVGA, he has said that "one of the great things about NVGA is the friendships which activity in the Association fosters...NVGA not only helps improve services to youth, adults, and the aging, it provides a focus for friendship."

That young man remained an active member of NCDA from the spring of 1934 until his death on June 21, 1994. Now in the autumn of 1994, NCDA celebrates Donald E. Super's 60 years of membership in NVGA/NCDA and acclaims his contributions to vocational psychology and career counseling with this Festschrift titled "From Vocational Guidance to Career Counseling: Essays to Honor Donald E. Super." This article begins the Festschrift with a biography that concentrates on Super's own career development. In writing the biography, I structured the script to highlight the five life stages in Super's theoretical model of career development and narrated his career story using the same language that Super used to denote the vocational development tasks that he identified, reflected on, and researched for 60 years.


Donald Edwin Super was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 10, 1910. His parents, Paul and Margaret Louise (Stump) Super, grew up in Missouri. Super's father, after graduating from the University of Missouri as specialist in personnel training, left Missouri to work as the general secretary for YMCA in Hawaii. Super's mother, a native of Nevada, Missouri, earned a master of arts degree and taught Latin and algebra before she shifted fields to work as a special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and as an editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post, writing under the pen name of Ann Su Cardwell. In the 1940s, she wrote two books on Poland's foreign relations with Russia (Cardwell, 1944, 1945). Super's father descended from a long line of college professors who taught the classics and modern languages. This lineage, in part, explains Super's fluency in the Polish, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. Super believed that his parents' occupations influenced his own career his mother as a writer and his father as a personnel specialist who had worked with E. L. Thorndike and William Heard Kilpatrick at Teachers College Columbia, two people with whom Super would eventually work. In due course, Super's avocational interest in architecture and occupational interest in psychology may have, in turn, influenced the careers of his two sons: Robert who is a much in demand architectural photographer, and Charles who is a prominent developmental psychologist.

When Super was to start grade school, his father was transferred from Honolulu to the YMCA national office in New York City. Super and his brother Robert (older by 3 years) moved with their parents to Montclair, New Jersey, where the boys attended elementary school. Super remembered his whole life how his first-grade teacher criticized his Southern manners. Over four decades later, Super served the community of Montclair on the board of education (1960 to 1966; president, 1965 to 1966) and as president of the Union Congregational Church, 1970 to 1973.



When Super was 12, his father founded and directed the YMCA in Poland ("The Poles Pay Tribute to Paul Super," 1949). …

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