Johns Hopkins Gazette | December 15, 2008
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 15, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 15
Obituary: John Holland, 89, Studies Personalities in Workplace

John Holland in an undated photograph

By Amy Lunday

John Holland, professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology in the Krieger School, died on Nov. 27. He was 89.

Holland made a career out of studying the world of work, pioneering the theory that if people were aware of their personality type or combination of types — realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising or conventional — then they would be happier workers. His studies laid the foundation for the field of career counseling, according to Mark Presnell, director of the Career Center on the Homewood campus.

"Dr. Holland's theory and related research defined career counseling and interest assessment as practiced today," Presnell said. "His work is utilized daily by many career counselors in academia, government and private practice. As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Holland. In addition to being a brilliant academic, he was a warm individual who was willing to share his knowledge with new professionals."

Holland applied his "Theory of Vocational Personality Types" to both people and the workplace. The theory formed the basis for his renowned Self-Directed Search, an assessment designed to help people make educational and career decisions based on their interests. By answering yes or no to statements like "I understand the 'Big Bang' theory of the universe" and "I can refinish furniture or woodwork," he determined, workers could identify their strengths and weaknesses and size up the right career.

"The techniques are childlike they're so simple," Holland told The Gazette in 1997. "Some scientists think that because this is so easy to understand, it can't amount to anything. In science there is often a sales mission, though people don't like to admit that. In fact, anybody can get this message if they want it." Describing his own makeup of artistic, social and investigative components, Holland said, "I've got a relatively flat profile, actually. That makes you more versatile, complex and quite a bit confused."

Though he retired in 1980, Holland kept working on his research. In 1997, he revised a third edition of his 1959 book, Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments.

In its newsletter published last week, the National Association of Colleges and Employers noted that during his career, Holland earned many accolades, including the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology, the APA's Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge and the Extended Research Award from the American Counseling Association.

Holland was born in Omaha, Neb., where in 1942 he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology, French and mathematics at the University of Omaha. He received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota. Holland arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1969 and served as a professor and director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools before his "quasi-retirement."

Holland is survived by his children, Kay Sindoni, Joan Holland and Robert Holland; his grandchildren, Bianca and Joey Sindoni and Ted, Eric and Lisa Samuels; and his brother and sister, Dick and Jean Holland. He was predeceased by his wife, Elsie, and his brother, Bill Holland. Services were held Dec. 13.


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