After 30 years of job placement tests, interview-skills workshops and career fairs, Counseling and Career Services (C&CS) Director Dennis Nord will retire today.
Nord said he arrived at UCSB about four years after student demonstrators burned down the Isla Vista Bank of America in 1970 to protest the war in Vietnam. Since that time, he has worked for C&CS, both counseling students with problems such as depression and giving career advice to freshmen and seniors alike.
“I thought I would stay [at UCSB] for three or four years and then move on, partly because I like so many places in the world,” said Nord, who has traveled extensively throughout the Unites States and the world. “But after being here awhile I thought, ‘Where does it get better?'”
Before attending graduate school in Iowa, Nord said he switched majors from physics to psychology because he wanted a career that involved more interaction with people. In addition to his interest in personal counseling, he began focusing on career advice after working with patients in an Iowa Veterans Affairs psychiatric ward.
“One of the most distressing things for people is not having meaning in life because they’re not working,” he said. “I started helping [the patients] find volunteer things they could do, training [them in] things they could do – even people who’d been institutionalized for years.”
Nord said C&CS has used various personality tests and assessments to help students find their ideal profession. However, Nord said he has been more successful with helping students discover their vocational potential through outdoor activities.
“I’ve been an outdoor person forever,” he said. “I tried the sedentary business of being a psychologist and decided, well, one of the times that I make my best decisions is when I’m out in the back country. I wanted to share that with students.”
Nord said he began to offer students adventure-based retreats in the wilderness as part of his Education 164 class – which focuses on career planning — in 1982, expecting only a couple of people to respond. The idea behind the retreat was to examine what students could do physically and apply it to what they could do in their vocations. Instead of only taking two students on such a trip, 20 students showed their interest. Today, he said 60 to 80 students in the Winter and Spring Quarters attend daylong retreats at Camp Whittier in Santa Barbara County.
“If they can get over that wall – and it’s a pretty big wall, about 14 feet tall – and you can’t use ropes or ladders or anything else, going out to do an interview probably wouldn’t be too intimidating,” Nord said.
However, Nord said his experiences on the job often place him in more serious settings than a class retreat. He said he has talked down a suicidal student from jumping off of a campus building as well as walked door-to-door counseling people after UCSB student David Attias killed four students and seriously injured a fifth with his car on Sabado Tarde Road in Isla Vista in 2001.
“It was so traumatic for students,” Nord said, referring to the Attias incident. “[Students] had been besieged by reporters… Some left the university for a while.”
Nord said many of the issues he has counseled in recent years have become more serious, including depression, family problems and chemical imbalances.
“One of the things we know is being highly intelligent — which our students are — doesn’t mean that they’ve also learned how to handle all the emotional and interpersonal issues that they need to manage,” Nord said. “That’s part of what’s engaged us — that’s part of our work.”
Nord said he is confident the C&CS will continue to run effectively without him at the helm. His position is being split between C&CS Associate Director Micael Kemp, who will become the director of the career center, and C&CS Psychologist Jeanne Stanford, who will manage the counseling side.
In his retirement, Nord said he plans to write a book with the working title of Wilderness and Well-being which will be about career selection tied in with wilderness experience. He also said he plans to travel and spend more time with his family, the youngest of whom he tries to help out with career choices.
“I did ask my granddaughter once when she was about six what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said she wanted to be a fire truck,” he said. “I’ve only heard that once before.”