IPPA Award Winners 2023

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Christopher Peterson Gold Medal

The Christopher Peterson Gold Medal honors an IPPA member who exemplifies the best of positive psychology at the personal, professional, and academic levels. This award is named after Christopher Peterson, a beloved IPPA Fellow, professor, scholar and pioneer in the field of positive psychology. Peterson’s many scholarly contributions include his work on the character strengths and values classification and assessment with Martin Seligman. On a personal level, Peterson was known for his sincerity, humility, integrity, sense of humor and generosity.

Richard E. Boyatzis

Richard Boyatzis is Distinguished University Professor, as well as Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University and Adjunct Professor at ESADE.

He is the author of more than 150 articles and books on leadership, competencies, EI, and change from a complexity perspective, including: The Competent Manager (in 2 languages); Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee, in 28 languages; Resonant Leadership, with Annie McKee (in 18 languages); Becoming a Resonant Leader, with Annie McKee and Francis Johnston (in 8 languages), and Transforming Qualitative Information (in 2 languages). He is also faculty for the MOOC Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence course offered through Coursera.org which currently has over 450,000 participants enrolled.

Professor Boyatzis’ current research includes several fMRI studies into the neural systems activated when engaged in Intentional Change efforts of arousing the Positive Emotional Attractor, as well as resonant versus dissonant leadership. He is also involved in numerous research studies of coaching, doctor-patient relationships and teacher-student relationships that foster sustained, desired change. His current writing includes exploration of Intentional Change Theory as it explains sustained, desired change at all levels of human functioning, from individual, to dyad, to team, to organization, to community, to country and global change.

Prior to becoming a professor in 1987, he had been President and CEO of McBer and Company (a research oriented human resource consulting company) for 11 years and COO of Yankelovich, Skelly & White (a market research company) for 3 years. During these years he worked on various projects from treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts to the development of competency based human resource systems and competency assessment validation. Prior to that he had been a psychologist for the Veterans Administration.

He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his Masters and PhD from Harvard University in Social Psychology.

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James O. Pawelski Positive Catalyst Award

The James O. Pawelski Positive Catalyst Award is presented to an IPPA member who:

  • Advances change for the Association
  • Has committed their service to IPPA for a sustained period of time
  • Has mobilized and catalyzed others to contribute to IPPA
  • Has Helpted to build and contribute to the IPPA community
  • Can show concrete outcomes and impact for the Association based on their efforts

Leona Brandwene

Leona Brandwene, MAPP, PCC, serves as the Associate Director for the MAPP program, and works alongside the stellar MAPP instructional team to ensure a world-class educational experience for students in positive psychology.

Leona Brandwene, MAPP, PCC, serves as the Associate Director for the MAPP program, and works alongside the stellar MAPP instructional team to ensure a world-class educational experience for students in positive psychology. She supports program strategy, operations, planning, and development. Along with her work in positive psychology, Leona is a coach and consultant in health care, with a particular emphasis on building cultures that enable high-performing teams in quality and safety. She loves running, family, and supporting youth sports in her community, particularly crewing for her triathlete daughter, Sophie. She lives in Lancaster County with her husband Josh and 15-year-old daughter.

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Raymond D. Fowler Service Award

The Raymond D. Fowler Service Award honors an IPPA member who has gone above and beyond to give his or her time in the service of advancing the field of positive psychology. The award is named after a dear colleague and IPPA Fellow, Ray Fowler, whose generosity and vision catalyzed the creation of IPPA back in 2007.

Ryan Niemiec

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D. is Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, that is viewed as the global leader in advancing the science and practice of character strengths.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D. is Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, that is viewed as the global leader in advancing the science and practice of character strengths. Ryan is author of the new book, Character Strengths Interventions: A Field-Guide for Practitioners and other books including: Mindfulness and Character Strengths and Positive Psychology at the Movies. He’s an award-winning psychologist, certified coach, international workshop leader, and adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Xavier University. At VIA, Ryan develops (or co-develops) VIA’s courses, reports, and programs, and helps professionals around the globe, across disciplines, apply character strengths, personally and professionally. He’s published over 60 peer-reviewed or invited articles on character strengths and related topics. Ryan is especially interested in the intersection of character strengths with resilience, intellectual/developmental disability, mindfulness, savoring, and health. Ryan is creator of the evidence-based, Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), the first, structured program for building character strengths. Over the last 15 years, Ryan has led hundreds of mindfulness groups for various audiences and has offered hundreds of presentations on character strengths. On a personal level, Ryan’s signature strengths are hope, love, curiosity, fairness, honesty, and appreciation of beauty.

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Outstanding Practitioner Award

The Outstanding Practitioner Award honors an IPPA practitioner who has shown the most outstanding excellence and impact in advancing the practice of positive psychology in ethical and evidence-based ways.

R. Lisle Baker

Before joining the faculty of Suffolk University Law School in 1973, he practiced law with the Boston firm of Hill & Barlow, as well as appeared on the Peabody Award-winning Public Broadcasting System (PBS) public debate series, The Advocates.

Professor Baker has also been elected to twenty two-year terms on the Newton, Massachusetts, City Council, where he continues to serve as the Ward Councilor for Ward 7, and serves on the Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee. He graduated with honors from Williams College and Harvard Law School, and served in the US Marine Corps Reserves.

At Suffolk, he has taught such subjects as Property; Negotiation; Law Practice Planning: Law as a Career and an Enterprise; Leadership and Character Strengths; Positive Psychology for Lawyers; Character and Fitness for Professional Success; and Professional Identity Formation and Well-being. He has published articles on such topics as forming a positive professional identity, character and fitness for leadership, designing a positive psychology course for lawyers, learning how to pay attention, delivering bad news well, educating lawyers for compassion and courage, how to become more physically active in a busy professional life, and using insights about perception and judgment as an aid to mediation, among others. In 2016, he earned a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, he convened conferences at Suffolk on Integrating Positive Psychology into Legal Education. He has served on a number of Bar Association Committees, most recently focused on lawyer well-being. He is also a member of the Legal Education Subcommittee appointed by the Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-being of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He was a principal author of A Guide to Law Student Wellness and Well-Being. At Suffolk, he has also served on and also Chaired the Law School’s Self-Study and Long-Range Planning Committee (which was principally responsible for the introduction of areas of concentration), the Building and Space Committee (which was principally responsible for the tiered classroom design in Sargent Hall, including installed technology), and the Ad Hoc Committee on Well-being and Professionalism (which recommended offering a pilot one-credit first year course on well-being, professionalism and inclusion, now Professional Identity Formation and Well-being.) He also Chaired the University Strategic Planning Council, the precursor to the Faculty Senate, on which he has also served. He is also the first person to win the University-wide Suffolk University Award for Service (2019). In 2023, the International Positive Psychology Association gave him its Outstanding Practitioner Award at its World Congress on Positive Psychology in Vancouver, Canada.

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Early Career Researcher Award

The Early Career Researcher Award honors an IPPA member who, within the first 10 years of completing their PhD, has contributed most significantly to scientific advancement of knowledge in positive psychology.

Saida Heshmati
Claremont Graduate University

Dr. Saida Heshmati is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, and her research program is interdisciplinary and sits at the intersection of developmental, positive, and quantitative psychology.

Dr. Heshmati’s main research approach centers on bringing together a suite of measurement tools and state-of-the-art methodology in the service of understanding how well-being unfolds across multiple time-scales in youth’s everyday lives and relationships; a central goal in her work is to approach this question in a culturally- and ecologically-valid manner.

As the founder and director of the Well-Being and Developmental Methods Research Lab, most of her publications to date focus on a unique and novel methodology to investigate components of optimal development and well-being, in particular in adolescent and young adults’ everyday life contexts. Combining her quantitative analytical expertise with her work in the field of developmental psychology and intervention science, the focus for her future research is to understand the underpinnings of well-being disparities in youth while also facilitating their unique paths to optimal development.

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Dissertation Award

This award is conferred on the author of a Ph.D. dissertation on a topic in the domain of positive psychology.  Many of the applications received this year were characterized by impressively high levels of originality and methodological complexity: a very promising perspective for the future of positive psychology.

David R Cregg
The Ohio State University

David Cregg obtained his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at The Ohio State University in 2021.

He returned to his native state of Texas to complete a residency and postdoctoral fellowship in clinical psychology with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) in San Antonio, TX. He currently serves as a clinical psychologist for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, specializing in caring for Veterans who experience psychosis and related conditions. He is passionate about the integration of research and clinical practice. His research and clinical interests include psychosis, dual diagnosis, motivational interviewing, the psychology of religion & spirituality, philosophy of science, mental health and the criminal justice system, and clinical applications of positive psychology concepts (e.g., gratitude, forgiveness, spirituality, and prosocial behavior). His publications on gratitude and kindness have been covered by major media outlets such as The Times of London, US News & World Report, Healthline, and Forbes. He has made appearances to discuss his research on shows such as NBC’s The Today Show, Times Radio of London, The Tanya Acker Show, and The Science of Happiness podcast with Dacher Keltner. In his time of rest, he is an avid cyclist and hiker, and he enjoys spending time with his wife and their pug named Triscuit.

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Dissertation Award Honorable Mention

This award is conferred on the author of a Ph.D. dissertation on a topic in the domain of positive psychology.  Many of the applications received this year were characterized by impressively high levels of originality and methodological complexity: a very promising perspective for the future of positive psychology.

Nicole Casali

Nicole Casali is currently a postdoctoral researcher within the Independent Research Group “Personality, Identity, and Crime” at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law in Freiburg, Germany.

She holds a Ph.D. in Psychological Sciences from the University of Padova (Italy), where she also received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology of personality and interpersonal relationships. She’s currently undertaking a psychotherapy training in cognitive and constructivist psychotherapy.

Her research interests concern personality psychology in general, and how individuals differ on positive, morally valued personality traits (e.g., character strengths) in particular. She is particularly interested in conceptualizing these individual differences, measuring them accurately, and understanding how they can help us explain why some people behave morally (e.g., cooperate with others) while others do not, and how we can instill a desire to change and thus promote more moral behavior.

Her dissertation focused on the measuring character strengths in the Italian population, examining the role of character for relevant positive outcomes (subjective well-being, mental health, and academic achievement and satisfaction) in the general and student populations, and training character strengths and mindfulness to promote well-being.

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Dissertation Award Honorable Mention

This award is conferred on the author of a Ph.D. dissertation on a topic in the domain of positive psychology.  Many of the applications received this year were characterized by impressively high levels of originality and methodological complexity: a very promising perspective for the future of positive psychology.

Michela Zambelli
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan

Michela Zambelli is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychometrics and Adjunct Professor in the Psychology Department of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan, Italy.

She completed her Ph.D. in Psychology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan with a dissertation titled “Investigating dynamics of change of psychological processes within a complexity framework: application to the meaning-making process”. The dissertation contributed several studies including the development and validation of the Situational Meaning in Life Evaluation (SMILE) and the application of advanced analytical techniques such as Dynamic Structural Equation Models and Multilevel Network Analysis to unveil the daily dynamics of the meaning-making process among emerging and young adults living the Covid-19 pandemic. Her dissertation was also awarded the Best PhD Dissertation from the Italian Psychology Association, Experimental Psychology section. Her research is published in peer-reviewed international top tier journals and is mainly focused on the adoption of intensive longitudinal methods and person-oriented techniques to investigate the intra-individual and inter-individual functioning of psychological processes in the developmental and positive psychology field.

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Spirituality and Meaning Practitioner Award

This award recognizes exemplary professionals that have had and are continuing to have a substantially positive impact in practice in spirituality/meaning. The quality of their work serves as an important example for the field of spirituality/meaning and the larger field of positive psychology, as it demonstrates strong theory, research, and/or practice.

Rev. Dr Sahaya G. Selvam

Religion, spirituality, meaning, and wellbeing define Rev. Dr Sahaya Selvam’s pastoral ministry and academic work as a Catholic priest and a psychologist, originally from India, now serving in religious and academic contexts in East Africa since 1992.

After the completion of his PhD at the University of London in 2012, back in Kenya, he developed a course outline and lobbied successfully to introduce positive psychology as a compulsory course in counselling psychology at the Tangaza University College, Nairobi. Other universities in Kenya have since followed suit. In 2020, in collaboration with colleagues, he founded the Positive Psychology Association of Kenya (PPAK). With over 180 registered members now, PPAK offers webinars, online courses, and trains character coaches. The Character Coaches Manual (3 volumes) has a strong focus on spirituality, meaning, and wellbeing. Recently, Selvam obtained a grant of €35,000 to train 50 character coaches. The coaches form character clubs reaching out to at least 500 youth in one year. There are other 75 coaches trained outside this project. The efficacy of the programme on wellbeing is also being scientifically verified. He has authored over 40 academic articles and book chapters on spirituality, wellbeing, and character strengths.

In short, drawing on insights from positive psychology, he brings a scientific approach to his academic and spiritual interventions around meaning and wellbeing enabling flourishing individuals and thriving communities.

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Dissertation Award Honorable Mention

This award is conferred on the author of a Ph.D. dissertation on a topic in the domain of positive psychology.  Many of the applications received this year were characterized by impressively high levels of originality and methodological complexity: a very promising perspective for the future of positive psychology.

Christa Mahlobo
University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Mahlobo is a multicultural developmental psychologist and Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from The Pennsylvania State University in 2022. Her areas of expertise are in flourishing and well-being in members of the global majority. Her research examines both barriers and opportunities across the lifespan that impact Black American flourishing. Her research on the Humanities and Human Flourishing Project is focused on the relationship between the arts and humanities and Black American Flourishing. As a certified yoga instructor (RYT-200), she is also interested in contemplative practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga that promote flourishing.

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Contributions in Positive Health Award – Positive Health and Wellness Division

This award recognizes individuals with long and distinguished careers who have made a notable impact on the field of positive health. Nominees can be any professional involved in positive health (academics, researchers, clinicians, organizations, practitioners, consultants, coaches), who uses positive psychology to advance human longevity, quality of life, and physiological and psychological wellbeing (including decreased morbidity).

Sarah Pressman
University of Miami, USA

Sarah Pressman is an Associate Professor of Psychological Science at the University of California, Irvine.

Her research focuses on the interplay between positive emotions, social relationships, stress, and health, with a focus on the physiological processes that underlie these associations.

Generally, my research examines the role that positive emotions and other positive factors play in influencing stress and health outcomes. I am especially interested in exactly how these factors “get under the skin” to influence our well-being and protect us against the harmful effects of stress. Pathways that I have examined include physiological processes such as stress hormone reactivity, cardiovascular response, immune system change, as well as health behaviors like sleeping, exercise, and other leisure activities. I also do research on the role of these positive psychosocial factors in buffering the detrimental effects of stress. For example, I am interested in whether happiness is associated with an improved ability to handle stress, both from a psychological and a physiological standpoint. I am also very interested in using relationship and emotion markers outside of self-report as predictors of health. For example, computerized word encoding of writing, or positive facial emotion expression (e.g., smiling) as alternative, unobtrusive methods of understanding individual differences.

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Positive Health and Wellbeing Division Practitioner Award

This award is presented to an individual who is recognized for making a significant impact in the areas of positive health and wellbeing as a practitioner.

Karen Garman

Dr. Karen Garman, is the president and principal performance consultant for Healthcare, Education, Leadership and Performance or HELP, Inc.

With a doctorate from the University of Southern California in medical education and a certificate from the International Society for Performance Improvement as a human performance improvement (HPI) expert, Dr. Garman has over 42 years of experience in the delivery of a variety of professional development training programs to public and private healthcare organizations. In addition to the large-scale healthcare systems work that she designs and implements, she is a board-certified coach and personally coaches healthcare individuals on how to become better leaders and clinicians at the local, state and national healthcare levels. Dr. Garman was one of the first graduates of the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 and recently received the Positive Health and Well-Being Practitioner Award from the International Positive Psychology Association for her years of service in the field of healthcare and positive psychology. Dr. Garman is currently the well-being consultant to the Rady Children’s Hospital Patient Care Services, addressing the nursing burnout, post COVID, and implementing the resiliency training required to positively change the future for healthcare professionals. Her daily mission is to use positive psychology practices to enable successful healthcare providers to be more successful personally and professionally.