100 Years of Advancing CTE: Marie Barry Reflects on CTE’s Past and Future

We are celebrating 100 years of Advance CTE! Throughout the year, we’ll feature interviews with past State CTE Directors, Board of Directors members, partners, CTE leaders and more. This month, learn more about how Marie Barry, former State CTE Director in New Jersey, former Board of Directors President and a consultant with Advance CTE, views CTE’s past and future. 

Why Career Technical Education? 
My background is in vocational rehabilitation counseling and career development. Prior to becoming New Jersey’s State CTE Director, I spent time at the postsecondary level helping students and adults develop their career options and interests. I entered the policy arena after because I was consistently recognizing gaps that students were falling through and wanted to take a proactive stance in addressing those gaps.

At the core, I’ve been committed to uplifting students and guiding them to a career that brings meaning and purpose to what they do.

How has the CTE field evolved since you began working in it, and similarly, how has the public understanding of CTE kept pace with this change?
CTE was certainly more anecdotal back then. Educators and professionals in the field largely relied on examples and success stories to communicate the impact of CTE. But with guidance from Advance CTE, there was a push for state leaders across the country to begin doing more than tell stories and to use data to drive conversations around CTE.

Also in the past, the CTE field was very much situated around the vocational model. This allowed classes like home economics and woodwork to develop into the cornerstone of the field’s identity and the public’s understanding of what CTE offered. Now, of course, CTE provides students opportunities to develop in-demand skills, like advanced manufacturing, and obtain high-paying jobs.

Although I still think we have some ways to go to detach from the field’s early stigma, I believe that the public is really beginning to understand the immense capacity of CTE.

With changes in the field, how has Advance CTE’s role shifted as well?
Advance CTE has absolutely grown in terms of its values and its reputation. Most notably, there has been a shift in the organization’s pasture and approach. A decade ago, Advance CTE was mostly in a defensive position, having to really explain to everyone why the field even existed. Now, the organization’s role has morphed and transcended to driving changes in the field through data and best practices.

Also, because the organization has never settled for the status quo, there has always been a mindset around continuous improvement and incorporating more partners to collaborate across education systems.

What do you envision the future of CTE to look like?
When I think about the future of CTE, I think that we will continue to move to a place where we honor all careers and pathways that provide a high-quality standard of living for students. I think more schools and students will also begin to take advantage of its benefits and there really won’t be a difference between the traditional academic experience and the CTE experience — it’ll just be blended in with the education experience.

CTE won’t just be a terminal pathway, but one that supports the life-long learning process and continuously provides students and adults meaningful opportunities to succeed.

Do you have any advice for future CTE leaders?
My advice in this space is that we need to be innovative, open and aware that change in the context of our work is constant. As the world around us changes, future leaders in CTE are going to be as nimble and flexible to keep pace and be proactive. Deep mindset around continuous improvements.

Also, something that helped my development in the CTE space was a focus around being an effective communicator as well as an effective connector. Given the breadth of CTE’s impact on the student experience, leaders in this space cannot operate in silos and distinct from other interconnected systems across the education continuum. As such, CTE leaders need to make connections and actively be apart of those connections.

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