Post image for Barry Chung

Barry Chung

June 11, 2014

For someone particularly interested in career development, Barry Chung has had a career of interesting developments himself. In recent months, Chung, professor of counseling and educational psychology and director of the counseling psychology PhD program, has been honored by organizations for his work, a work devoted to career development issues and, particularly, diversity issues in career development.

“I’ve always been committed to diversity issues,” Chung says.

He joined the School of Education faculty in 2012 after stints at Georgia State University and Northeastern University. His work over the last 20 years led to the National Career Development Association (NCDA) honoring him with the Diversity Initiative Award, which was presented to him at the annual conference last summer in Boston. Speaking about the award, Chung says he tried to promote diversity issues during the time he served as NCDA president (2006–07), “I was always trying to help everybody think about how organizational initiatives and directions may be relevant to cultural diversity.”

His overall work in counseling psychology has earned him an invitation to deliver the keynote address for the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Counseling Psychologists next year.

This pathway to career success was far from obvious, but it is perhaps what shaped Chung’s view of the importance of diversity and multiculturalism. The youngest of five children born to parents who emigrated from mainland China to Hong Kong, Chung’s family lived in a cramped apartment where all seven slept in a bunk bed—kids on top, parents below.

“Somebody’s stomach would be somebody else’s pillow,” Chung recalls of that close-quarters slumber.

Higher education was far from guaranteed, particularly considering his circumstances. No one in his family had attended college, and money was certainly an obstacle. Chung says his mother still recounts stories of borrowing rice and milk from neighbors to feed him andhis siblings. To bring in more money, the older children went to work early.

“My older sister did a summer job in the summer of fifth grade,” Chung says. “She never went back to school.”

Chung found something in his schooling that drove him to succeed. He enjoyed studying and found great satisfaction in learning, often hanging out with like-minded students to discuss biology and math ‘geeks,’” Chung says of himself and his academically oriented friends. He gained admission to National Taiwan Normal University, which had free tuition, free housing, and a monthly stipend.

“If you were really good at managing your finances, the stipend could be good enough for the whole month of expenses,” he says.

At this Taiwanese university for preparing teachers, he was able tostudy educational psychology and counseling, which briefly resulted in a middle school counseling internship after graduation, but drove him to study further. Chung applied to the University of Illinois, arriving for master’s study with money borrowed from a sister and no other resources. He met with his advisor as the first semester started, and she found him an assistantship covering tuition and granting a stipend within his first week of school.

“From then on, I always had a tuition waiver and stipend to carry me through until I graduated,” Chung says. “That’s very lucky for someone who was born into such a poor family.”

After earning both his master’s and PhD in counseling psychology from Illinois, Chung began looking into ways to help others find and make such luck. He has devoted his career to studying factors that affect career development, particularly for immigrants, LGBT person, and people of color.

“Since I was a master’s student, I have been studying the connection between sexual orientation and work,” he says.

Chung has also worked to open more opportunities within his own organizations, such as spearheading an initiative to place more people from diverse backgrounds on the NCDA board.

Today, years and miles removed from growing up in tight quarters with a tighter budget, Chung remembers what it was like and is sure he can use his experience to help others.

“With my own experience, I have the compassion to help those to overcome these barriers,” he says. “I would love to have more success stories, particularly for people of color or immigrants, where they can build their own self-efficacy, find their own resources. I will advocate for resources that can make it happen for them.”