The People Behind the VIA Institute

Neal Mayerson positive psychology

Dr. Neal H. Mayerson, Chairman, received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and worked in hospital, community mental health and private practice settings for 15 years as a psychotherapist with specialties in chronic pain and eating disorders. Dr. Mayerson is the President of the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation, a private charitable foundation, President of The Mayerson Company, a real estate investment and management company, and Chairman of Mayerson Academy, a non-profit professional development organizations for K-12 educators.  

He was Founder and Chairman of Hummingbird Coaching Services, a company that pioneered online coaching services, and which ultimately was acquired by Humana.  He also founded RISE Learning Solutions, a non-profit that provided professional development to preschool teachers nationwide.  In 1999 he collaborated with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman on the founding of positive psychology, specifically by creating the VIA Institute on Character.  The VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues along with the VIA Surveys on Character Strengths are considered to be among the most important outputs in positive psychology, having spawned hundreds of scientific articles and millions of people worldwide discovering their character strengths and how to use them to improve their lives and the lives of others.

In his work with the Foundation, Dr. Mayerson has initiated and/or been a principal developer of numerous other nonprofit organizations and programs, including: The Mayerson Academy, the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children, the Inclusion Network, the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Program at Northern Kentucky University, RISE Learning Solutions, the Mayerson High School Service Learning Program, the Mayerson Artistic Excellence Fund,

Dr. Mayerson’s interests are varied, including having introduced Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer as a consumer brand, producing the award winning musical CD Hidden Treasures which is a tribute to King Records where rock and roll music was conceived, and establishing a unique social networking site based on conversations in poetry.


Martin Seligman positive psychology

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D, served as a VIA Trustee for its first 10 years.  He is Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and received both the American Psychological Society's William James Award (for basic science) and the Cattell Award (for the application of science). In 1997, he was elected president of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in modern history. The National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Templeton Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation have supported his research. He is the director of the Positive Psychology Network with a mission to transform social science so it works on the best things in life: virtue, positive emotion and positive institutions—and not just on healing pathology.

Workshop and Course Leaders:

Donna Mayerson positive spychologyDr. Donna Mayerson, Lead Consultant for Applied Practice at the VIA Institute, is a licensed psychologist and earned her master's degree in special education. Formerly a coaching director of Hummingbird Coaching Services, she is a certified coach who has used her deep knowledge of the VIA strengths as a framework for individual and organizational change with hundreds of education administrators and teachers, leaders of youth-serving organizations, in training coaches/practitioners and with individuals and families.

Ryan Niemie character strengths teachingDr. Ryan M. Niemiec, VIA's Education Director, is author of several books including Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing; and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies; and Movies and Mental Illness. Ryan is a licensed psychologist, certified coach, and international workshop leader. Dr. Niemiec develops VIA's courses, reports, and programs and applies strengths as the centerpiece of Character Strengths Coaching. He publishes articles and presents on a variety of positive psychology topics, such as strengths-based practice, positive assessment, and mindfulness meditation. His weekly blog What Matters Most? can be found on Psychology Today. LinkedIn: ryanVIA; Twitter: @ryanVIA

Consultant and Partners:

Fatima Doman, Lead Consultant for Global Business Development for the VIA Institute, specializes in coaching leaders in the areas of leveraging their character strengths, practicing positive leadership and applying leader as strengths coaching principles in their organizations. Fatima, author of the book, Elevate Your Strengths, holds the Advanced Executive Coaching Certification from the Columbia University Executive Coaching Program. Her work experience spans over two decades of successfully engaging with many fortune 500 clients representing a variety of industries including technology, consulting, electronics, health care, insurance and media. She has also worked with higher education, aerospace, all branches of the U.S. military, NASA, law enforcement, the UNCR, the International Rescue Committee and with executive branches of government in the U.S. and abroad. Fatima has partnered with SMCOV, a global training company to design and deliver content/curriculum and certifications for VIA. Fatima previously served as Founder and co-Director of FanklinCovey's Global Executive Coaching Practice. 


Mark Linkins positive psychologyMark Linkins, Lead Consultant for Educational Practices, draws on 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher, principal, and director or curriculum. From 2003-2004 Mark co-directed the Positive Psychology for Youth Project at Strath Haven High School, a U.S.  Dept. of Education-funded research partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. Subsequently, he has served as Positive Education teacher trainer and curriculum specialist at schools in Australia, Brazil, and the United States.



Robert McGrath positive psychologyDr. Robert McGrath, Senior Scientist, received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Auburn University and is currently a Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in the School of Psychology. He directs the university’s Certificate Program in Integrated Primary Care, as well as the university’s APA-designated M.S. Program in Clinical Psychopharmacology. Dr. McGrath also maintains an active research program in methodology, measurement and professional issues. In the last two years he has authored one book, Quantitative Models in Psychology, and co-edited a second, Pharmacotherapy for Psychologists: Prescribing and Collaborative Roles. He is a contributor to APA Books’ multi-volume reference The Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology and has authored over 150 publications and presentations.


Michelle McQuaid character strengths trainingMichelle McQuaid's role of Lead Consultant for Business Practices for the VIA Institute utilizes her extensive experience and passion for bringing out the best in people at work.  Through her videos, books, training programs and games, she’s helped thousands of people to leverage their strengths, challenge their beliefs, build their resilience, create great relationships and smash through their goals at work. She prides herself on helping people create jobs they like and careers they love. Her blend of real-world successes, actionable advice and enthusiasm for life make her a favorite of audiences around the world. Michelle fuses positive psychology, neuroscience and purposeful games into simple, practical actions that anyone can take to create positive changes that last—be it bottom-up one person at a time or top-down across entire workplace.


Professor Willibald Ruch, Senior Scientist, is currently chair of the section of personality and assessment at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. He received his PhD from the University of Graz, Austria and later worked at different universities in Germany, the UK and Switzerland. Between 1992 and 1998 he held a Heisenberg-fellowship awarded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). He has taught various courses on personality and assessment at different universities and he has authored about 230 journal articles and book chapters and co-edited and co-written five books. Willibald is co-editing or on the editorial board of several journals (including Journal of Individual Differences, Journal of Research in Personality, Journal of Positive Psychology), and co-editor of two book series. Currently he is working on positive psychology traits (e.g., character strengths and virtues; orientations to happiness, cheerfulness, humor) in adults and children/adolescents and their role in contributing to the good life. He is a founder member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and president of the Swiss Positive Psychology Association (SWIPPA).


Tayyab Rashid character strengths training

Tayyab Rashid, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, consults with the VIA institute on integration of character strengths in clinical and educational settings and is co-developer of Positive Psychotherapy with Dr. Martin Seligman. He works full time at the Health & Wellness Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada, as clinician and researcher. Dr. Rashid has trained mental health professionals and educators internationally and his expertise includes positive clinical psychology, strength-based resilience, positive education and post-traumatic growth.


Dr. Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Bar-Ilan University. She is currently the head of the Organizational-Vocational Psychology M.A. Program at Ariel University, Israel. Dr. Littman-Ovadia also maintains an active research program in career counseling, vocational psychology, positive interventions and psychotherapy, character strengths deployment at the workplace, and various professional issues. She supervises students on their dissertations, and teaches professional courses, such as vocational identity development, postmodern theories in career psychology, personalcareer counseling and psychotherapy, and positive vocational psychology. In the last five years she authored one textbook, Techniques and interventions in career counseling, and has authored over 50 publications and presentations.

Dr. Shiri Lavy completed her PhD with distinction in the psychology department at Bar-Ilan University, and then worked as a post-doctoral fellow in a mindfulness-research project at the University of Californiain Davis. Returning to Israel, she began her work as a faculty member at Ariel University, and was then recruited to the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, where she is employed to date. Dr. Lavy usesa variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods (i.e., laboratory studies, surveys, in-depth interviews) in her study of personality, well-being and relationships, in couples as well as in workorganizations. She has supervised several graduate students, and maintains international collaborations, which have resulted in over 30 publications and conference presentations. 

Dr. Littman-Ovadia and Dr. Lavy are currently conducting three studies focusing on the relevance of character strengths at work, a substantial area of human life which provides relatively vast opportunities for fulfilling individuals' potential and for achieving a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

The VIA Institute recognizes the importance of this research for employees and organizations, and provides support in the form of VIA-Fellow. Yaakov Gutman, graduate student in Ariel University, is the coordinator between the principle investigators and the VIA Institute.



Advisory Board for Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Claremont Graduate School
Ed Diener, University of Illinois
Raymond D. Fowler, Past CEO, American Psychological Association
Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of North Carolina
Howard Gardner, Harvard University
David Myers, Hope College
C. Rick Snyder, University of Kansas
Charles Spielberger, University of South Florida
Claude Steele, Stanford University
Robert Sternberg, Yale University
George Vaillant, Harvard University
Ellen Winner, Harvard University & Boston College

Youth Advisory Board (for Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification)

Bonnie Benard, WestEd
Robert Blum, Center for Adolescent Health
Dale Blyth, Center for Youth Development
Sonia Chessen, White House Council of Youth Violence
Reginald Clark, Clark & Associates
Lucy Davidson, Center for Child Well-being
Daniel Hart, Camden College of Arts and Sciences
Thaddeus Ferber, Forum for Youth Investment
Kenneth Maton, University of Maryland
Heather Johnston Nicholson, Girls Incorporated
Karen Pittman, Forum for Youth Investment
Jane Quinn, Children's Aid Society
Constancia Warren, Academy for Educational Development
Nicole Yohalem, Forum for Youth Investment