The People Behind The VIA Institute | VIA Institute


Dr. Neal Mayerson

Neal Mayerson, Ph.D., Chairman of the VIA Institute, 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, eating disorders, and couples therapy. 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 organization for K-12 educators.

He was Founder and Chairman of Hummingbird Coaching Services, a company that pioneered personalized online coaching services, which ultimately was acquired by Humana. He also founded RISE Learning Solutions, a non-profit that provided professional development to preschool teachers nationwide via distance learning technology.

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, and the Mayerson Artistic Excellence Fund. In 2016, Northern Kentucky University awarded Dr. Mayerson the Lincoln Award for his outstanding contributions to the community.

Dr. Mayerson’s interests are varied, including having introduced instant hand sanitizer (Purell) 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. He also has been awarded a patent for a method for online group conversation.

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman

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

Dr. Donna Mayerson

Dr. Donna Mayerson, Advisor 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.

Donna is one of the course leaders for the Navigating Transitions course and the Positive Relationships course.

Dr. Ryan Niemiec

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D. is a leading figure in the education, research, and practice of character strengths that are found in all human beings. He’s education director of the VIA Institute on Character, a global, non-profit organization in Cincinnati that advances the latest science of character strengths. Ryan is author of 9 books including the brand new consumer-oriented books The Power of Character Strengths (a #1 Amazon bestseller) and The Strengths-Based Workbook for Stress Relief, as well as practitioner-focused books that are leaders in their respective fields including, Character Strengths Interventions, Mindfulness and Character Strengths and Positive Psychology at the Movies. He’s penned over 80 scholarly/peer-reviewed articles and given more than 700 workshops, keynotes, and webinars on positive psychology topics across the globe. He’s an award-winning psychologist, annual instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, and adjunct professor at Xavier University. Ryan received a “distinguished early career award” from the American Psychological Association in 2011, and was granted Fellow status of the International Positive Psychology Association in 2017.

Senior Scientists

Dr. Robert McGrath

Dr. 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 Integrated Care for the Underserved of Northeastern New Jersey, a program offering free brief behavioral interventions to low-income primary care patients. Dr. McGrath also maintains an active research program in methodology, measurement and professional issues. He has authored over 250 publications and presentations, including several books on research methodology, and is a contributor to APA Books’ multi-volume reference The Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology.

Dr. Willibald Ruch

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).


Ruth Pearce

Ruth Pearce, JD, PMP, ACC, VIA Product & Practice Development Consultant, is President of ALLE LLC, an author, speaker, coach and a practicing project manager. Her experience includes financial services, state government, and non-profits. In 2018, her book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management was published by Berrett-Koehler. Ruth is a regular presenter in webinars and workshops and presents at conferences nationally and internationally on the subjects of social intelligence for project managers and using character strengths to build engaged, empowered teams. Her top strengths are Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness and Gratitude.

Client Representatives

Breta Cooper, Executive Director

Kelly Aluise, Content Manager

Christina Jenkins, Administrative Coordinator

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

Core Contributors to the Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook

  • Roy F. Baumeister (Humility; Self-Regulation)
  • Marvin W. Berkowitz (Fairness)
  • Jessey H. Bernstein (Vitality)
  • W Keith Campbell (Humility)
  • Katherine Dahlsgaard (Lessons from History)
  • Lucy Davidson (Integrity)
  • Robert A. Emmons (Gratitude)
  • Julie Juola Exline (Humility)
  • Constance A. Flanagan (Citizenship)
  • Jonathan Haidt (Appreciation of Beauty)
  • Andrew C. Harter (Persistence)
  • Pamela S. Hartman (Perspective)
  • Nick Haslam (Prudence)
  • Cindy Hazan (Love)
  • Thomas E. Joiner (Humility)
  • Lauren V. Kachorek (Humility)
  • Todd B. Kashdan (Curiosity)
  • Dacher Keltner (Appreciation of Beauty)
  • Joachim I. Krueger (Humility)
  • Jacqueline S. Mattis (Spirituality)
  • John D. Mayer (Social Intelligence)
  • Michael E. McCullough (Forgiveness; Kindness)
  • Nansook Park (Assessment and Applications)
  • Elizabeth Pollard (Integrity)
  • Stehpen G. Post (Kindness)
  • K Ann Renninger (Love of Learning)
  • Willibald Ruch (Humor)
  • Richard M. Ryan (Vitality)
  • Peter Salovey (Social Intelligence)
  • Carol Sansone (Love of Learning)
  • Kennon M. Sheldon (Integrity)
  • Stephen A. Sherblom (Fairness)
  • Dean Keith Simonton (Creativity)
  • Jessi L. Smith (Love of Learning)
  • Tracy A. Steen (Bravery)
  • Dianne M. Tice (Persistence)
  • Kathleen D. Vohs (Self-Regulation)
  • Harry M. Wallace (Persistence)
  • Monica C. Worline (Bravery)
  • Stephen J. Zaccaro (Leadership)