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College of Continuing Education News

Counseling Dynamo

Counseling Dynamo


For individuals who want to change careers or advance in their current one, but aren't sure how to accomplish it, working one-on-one with a career counselor may help them find the path to a more meaningful and satisfying lifework plan.

Individuals seeking such assistance often find themselves on the office doorstep of Janet Pelto, the College of Continuing Education's career and lifework planning specialist. Pelto, who has been with the College for 22 years, was recently honored for her work with the prestigious Jules Kerlan Outstanding Achievement Award from the Minnesota Career Development Association (MCDA).

According to the MCDA, of which Pelto is a current board of trustees member and a past president, the Kerlan award "recognizes an individual's lifetime achievement in the field of career development. Ideal candidates possess the following criteria: committed to human development and career development throughout their career; statewide or national recognition of activities; influential across any or all branches of career development; and a bridge builder across different professional organizations and/or among professional colleagues."

Pelto was nominated by Paul Timmins, director of CLA career services, and Vic Massaglia, career counselor with the U of M Law School.

Says Timmins, "I don't know of anyone who has made greater contributions to MCDA in recent years than Janet. She's been a member of our Board of Trustees for 20 years, is a former president, and is a former chair of our conference committee. But beyond her formal titles, Janet is a constant presence helping out behind the scenes, providing guidance and encouragement to her colleagues, and ensuring that the organization effectively serves career development professionals in the state. I [am] thrilled for her. She's a modest person who doesn't seek out awards or recognition, but she is richly deserving of this award."

Her quiet, yet hardworking, demeanor has been a hallmark in her career. "Janet has been a force of 'quiet elegance' on the board," says Massaglia. "She is the epitome of grace under pressure--she's got a passion and an energy to get things done; a real dynamo. Yet, she's certainly not a boaster or one to point out her own achievements. In fact, one of the reasons I'd never thought to nominate her sooner was that I just assumed she'd already won the award," he continues with a laugh.

"She's just an excellent, devoted career counselor. She loves her work and it shows. Janet embraces technology, podcasts, webinars, whatever it takes to help her clients. She's an excellent listener, and will hear what folks have to say, and come up with wise, practical, and implementation-oriented decisions.

"She's a rock in our field, and I am so happy to see her honored."

The irony of the situation is that Pelto (who has also won the MCDA's Marty Dockman Merit Award and earned the designation of Master Career Counselor from the National Career Development Association) never intended to be a career counselor at all--she fell into her job by a sort of happy accident.

"When I was in graduate school (studying educational psychology), the last thing I wanted to be was a career counselor...even though I really had no idea what a career counselor actually did," Pelto says with a smile. "I think I assumed that a career counselor had people coming to them saying 'Gee, I don't know what job I should do,' and then the counselor's role was to tell them what to do. I thought they had to have all the answers. And I didn't have all the answers!"

While she was finishing up her thesis, Pelto applied for two open positions in the College--one for an adviser, and the other as a career counselor. She was hired as a career counselor. "I had been working in higher ed in the student services and advising capacity previously, so not counseling. I had the credentials to work as a career counselor, but no experience. I remember thinking 'holy %$#@, I hope I like this!'"

Not only did she like it, she thrived at it. "It's like that old adage, 'love what you do, and you'll never work a day in your life.' This isn't work--it's fun. I am doing what I like, what I enjoy. I get to be surrounded by things that are important to me, in a great environment."

An environment where she learned that the trick isn't to "have all the answers," but rather to be a good listener--and be able to ask the right questions. "It's not about sitting there and telling people what to do. It's about knowing how to hear what the person is saying about their goals, their interests. And it's about asking the questions that help them get that information out of their heads.

"Sometimes it feels like what I'm doing is giving them permission to do what they want to do. People need to talk about it--but it can render you very vulnerable. I give them a safe place and a sounding board. I'm not telling them what to do--I'm there to witness people's truth. A lot of the time, people have an idea of what they want to do--it's just buried deep down inside. My goal is to get those ideas out into the open. Help them to verbalize, then act. No one can think their way to an answer."

After more than two decades in the field, Pelto has no intentions of slowing down. "Like I said--this isn't work, it's fun. I enjoy my job; I enjoy being involved with the MCDA. I've been involved with both for more than 20 years, and I've gotten a lot out of it. I am incredibly honored that my peers think enough of me to nominate me for this award. Really, I've got a great gig."

Career and lifework specialist Janet Pelto is a licensed psychologist specializing in mid-career counseling. During her 20-year tenure as a career counselor at the College of Continuing Education, she has guided thousands of clients on the path to a fulfilling career. Pelto holds an M.A. in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota.

If you would like to set up an individual consultation with a lifework consultant, or would like to learn more about the service, call 612-624-4000 or visit www.cce.umn.edu/career.


Kudos to Janet. She certainly deserves this award! I have found her to be a wonderful resource--a true "gem".

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