In memoriam – A tribute to Dr. Sunny Sundal Hansen

SCP has lost a cherished and influential member of our community.

Dr. Sunny Hansen died on December 21, 2020 at age 91. Dr. Hansen was an APA Fellow of Divisions 17 and 35, past president of both the American Counseling Association (ACA) and National Career Development Association (NCDA), and professor emeritus of University of Minnesota’s Counselor Education program (formerly Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology).

She is best known for her significant contributions to counseling and career development, including her book Integrative Life Planning: Critical Tasks for Career Development and Changing Life Patterns (1996, Jossey-Bass). A theory widely taught in career development courses, Integrative Life Planning (ILP) is a conceptual model that was groundbreaking for its holistic approach. It emphasizes the integration the mind, body, and spirit, acknowledges multiple aspects of life as interrelated, and provides a unique focus on connectedness and community.

Dr. Hansen is also known for her formative contributions to developmental career guidance research in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She was a significant contributor to the development of the Minnesota Career Development Curriculum (CDC, K-14), a research-based career guidance curriculum for school counselors and K-12 teachers. The CDC became the basis for developmental career guidance programs in several states, including the Minnesota Model of Career Education initiative (Skovholt et al., 2007).

Another important legacy of Dr. Hansen’s is the BORN FREE initiative. An acronym for Build Options, Reassess Norms, Free Roles through Educational Equity, BORN FREE was a project aiming to reduce the negative impact of gendered career socialization. It resulted in a multimedia training and development program providing education to teachers on gender-role stereotyping and its impact on both girls and boys, and women and men.

Dr. Hansen was a leader in the area of multicultural psychology (e.g., multicultural career counseling) and social justice advocacy, which was evident in her coursework and training initiatives within University of Minnesota’s Department of Educational Psychology, her scholarship, and her service and leadership roles. Her scholarship examined girls and women’s career development and gender issues at a time when few scholars were producing work in this area and, furthermore, few women held university faculty positions in the academy. Dr. Hansen retired from her faculty role in 1999 and continued to lecture widely for many years on counseling and career development. A profile honoring Dr. Hansen’s illustrious career provides an interview with her that allows us to understand the significance of her work and legacy in her own words (Skovholt et al., 2007).

She was known for her warmth and hosting regular gatherings of friends and colleagues at her home on the shores of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Dr. Sally Hage, a former student and mentee, shared these words with the SCP community: “She was an amazing role model for women and an innovator in career development, particularly in the area of gender and in integrative life planning. She lived what she taught. I carry so many memories of her strength, her wisdom, and her courage as one of the first women who received tenure at Minnesota. On a personal level, she had an amazingly optimistic spirit, and laughed easily and often. She was also passionate about social justice and diversity before it was the norm in our field. She opened her home and life to so many students, and she will not be forgotten.”

Hansen is survived by her husband, Tor, their two children, Sonja and Tor, and several grandchildren. For additional information about the life of Sunny Hansen, see her obituary.


Author Info: Shannon McClain, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and program coordinator of the master’s program in counseling psychology.

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