Wheaton magazine

Volume 22 // Issue 3
Wheaton magazine // Autumn 2019

Service and Sacrificial Love: Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey '53

Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey ’53
Photo by Mike Hudson '89

Dr. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey ’53 has spent her life investing in others. She knows what it means to work hard and love sacrificially. Enrolled in Wheaton as an undergraduate at age 15, she took a full course load and worked part-time jobs on campus. She also helped care for her grandmother, who suffered a stroke on the first night of JoAnn’s freshman year.

“I had very little social activity because of my academic work and care for my grandmother—I had to schedule classes in the afternoon while my mother was at home, and I took care of Grandmother in the morning.”

JoAnn lived in a home with her mother and grandmother on Adams Street during the 1950s and 1960s. Her mother worked as a cook in the College’s cafeteria, and her work supported JoAnn’s Wheaton education—children of College employees at that time could attend for free. In thanks to her mother for this gift of a fully funded college education, JoAnn established the Annie E. Harris Scholarship Fund for Wheaton undergraduate students in 2014. It has underwritten numerous students and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“I hope and pray students can leave Wheaton without a lifetime of debt,” Dr. Harris-Bowlsbey says. “We all know the statistics about the size of debts students have. That’s why I’ve established the Annie E. Harris Scholarship Fund—so fewer students will have big bills. I also hope and pray that Wheaton students will remain strong in the spiritual foundation formed in their years at Wheaton so that they can be salt and light in this dark world.”

As an undergraduate, JoAnn pursued a double major in both Spanish and chemistry. She really wanted to be a Spanish teacher after graduation, but her mother encouraged her to get a degree in something she considered more “practical”—in this case, Chemistry—and both paid off in the long run. As a teacher in public school, JoAnn put her skills to use as a Spanish teacher, counselor, and director of guidance. In addition to a double major, JoAnn worked in Wheaton’s mimeograph office on Saturdays, and during the summers at Sanford, Inc., where she tested ink and paste samples to “make sure children’s paste wouldn’t harm them and that inks wouldn’t fade too soon.” Social activities JoAnn enjoyed included the “Senior Sneak” to Wisconsin and a post-graduation trip to Europe with Clyde and Martha Kilby.

JoAnn’s 65-year career has been a career of breakthroughs.

“If you’re going to pursue systematic career planning, especially delivered by a computer, and now on the web, you have to think rationally about the steps a person needs to go through to do exploration and decision-making that leads them to a well-informed choice of education and occupation,” JoAnn says. “That requires scientific thinking.”

The system JoAnn created—the Computerized Vocational Information System (CVIS)—quickly spread across the nation and eventually the world. 

“I think the discipline of science and mathematics that I developed at Wheaton supported my ability to design systematic career planning systems that have been delivered since 1968 by computer and now by the web. They’re still the same thing, just in a different form.”

JoAnn recognizes that, after she sent out her first application to teach at York High School, she never had to send out an application again. Throughout her career, every position she attained was offered to her. She notes an experience at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park in the early 1960s as a formational one. While one of a staff of 12 full-time counselors, she was called into the principal’s office. He asked why she hadn’t applied to be the director of guidance; she replied by saying that she didn’t expecta woman would get it anyway, because a woman would never expect to be promoted in that way at that time. The principal told JoAnn he wanted her application on his desk the next morning, and she became director of guidance at Willowbrook High School shortly thereafter.

She went on to obtain her doctorate at Northern Illinois University, became a college professor there, and continued to develop computer-assisted career guidance systems thanks to federal government funding and support from IBM. ACT acquired the resultant system, called DISCOVER, by merger in 1982.

JoAnn went on to become executive director of the ACT Educational Technology Center, president of the National Career Development Association, and executive director of product development at Kuder, Inc. Over the course of her career, JoAnn has consulted for global organizations, including Nippon Manpower Co Ltd. in Japan, which used the career adviser curriculum she wrote to train nearly 20,000 career advisers to date. The United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons also invited Dr. Harris-Bowlsbey to develop curriculum for Offender Workforce Development Specialists, paraprofessionals on U.S. prison staffs who help prisoners gain the skills necessary to attain and keep jobs when they are released. McDaniel College awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2016.  

“My hopes and dreams and prayers are that Wheaton will remain a school committed to the training of young people so they will serve Christ and his kingdom,” Dr. Harris-Bowlsbey says. “We sometimes think of service for Christ and his kingdom as being that of a minister or missionary, but I think that every one of us is in full-time Christian service, and I’ve tried to live my life in that way.”