Director of Communications, Utah Department of Transportation
Master of Applied Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania ’18
Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Linguistics, Brigham Young University ’07
Like many people who complete the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program, Elizabeth Weight (MAPP ’18) says she felt “called” to do so. Elizabeth is the communications director for Utah’s Department of Transportation. She is also a competitive bodybuilder who finds purpose in helping women, especially working moms like herself, feel strong. Elizabeth discovered positive psychology while designing a new employee orientation for her agency and soon realized that the science of human flourishing underpinned the impact she hoped to create in both her professional and personal life. “I knew the MAPP program was something that I just had to do,” she says. Beyond that visceral drive to enroll, however, she was unsure how much she would have in common with her cohort.
When Elizabeth arrived at Penn, she says, “I introduced myself and talked about my background in transportation funding and fitness. It was pretty clear right out the gate how different my interests were from the rest of my classmates, but they all thought it was fascinating and wanted to hear more. MAPP people are so open and accepting and curious.” Elizabeth was also relieved to discover that there were other people in the program who sometimes struggled to feel optimistic. “People who decide to pursue a higher degree in positive psychology are there because they want to understand the subject better,” she says, “not necessarily because they are already so positive. There is a lot of realism and questioning and growth.”
For her capstone project, Elizabeth researched the relationships between transportation and well-being. “I strongly believe that transportation and transit are this invisible force that impacts so many elements of our quality of life and yet people don’t see it,” she says.
Elizabeth’s capstone coincided with a particularly busy time at work. She had joined an initiative to overhaul how funding is prioritized for transportation projects throughout Utah. She calls the timing a lucky convergence. “Every opportunity I had, I was pushing my research about well-being in front of people and talking about it and planting seeds,” she says. As a result, the state’s funding prioritization process now takes quality-of-life metrics into account, not just typical performance measures like mobility, congestion, and delay. “It’s an extraordinary change,” Elizabeth says, “and one of the proudest achievements of my life. It's hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent towards improving the well-being of millions of people.”
Elizabeth describes herself as “very driven and pretty direct,” especially at work. “So I tell people, ‘If I can do this, if optimism and positivity are possible for me, then I can show you one thing that will make your life better,’” she says. Recently, in a meeting at work, Elizabeth proposed that everyone take a moment to reflect on what they are grateful for. Her colleagues agreed afterward that the meeting was more successful because of the exercise.
“It is such an amazing feeling to have this toolkit now that I can share with colleagues and other people in my life whenever they are struggling,” Elizabeth says. “To have techniques, tactics, and ways of thinking that they can put into practice in that moment. And it reminds me to practice those things as well.”
Reflecting on her experience, Elizabeth says, “You go into the program and even though you want to learn everything and do well and do good, it's easy to believe that making a big difference is nearly impossible. But you can; one opportunity can change everything. I think that MAPP gives people more of those chances than they might otherwise get to make a huge difference.”