Director of the Teaching and Learning Evaluation and Measurement Unit, The University of Hong Kong
Master of Applied Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, ‘21
Doctorate in Psychometrics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, ‘08
Master of Science in Statistics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, ‘07
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Beijing Normal University, ‘03
Dr. Maggie Yue Zhao, a 2021 graduate of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program, describes herself as a “pracademic.” As an academic, her journey of learning will be lifelong, but as a practitioner, she is passionate about “making a positive impact on the greater community.” Dr. Zhao is the Director of the Teaching and Learning Evaluation and Measurement Unit at The University of Hong Kong where she supports the enhancement of teaching and learning at the institutional level with a focus on assessment and evaluation.
An optimist by nature, Maggie was inspired by Marty Seligman’s speeches and talks, and was “also quite fascinated by the perspective of positive psychology that focuses on how people flourish and what makes life worth living.” She completed all five modules of Penn’s Foundations of Positive Psychology course, and having no doubt that this was the beginning of a “stimulating journey,” applied to the MAPP program. As a resident of Hong Kong with a commitment to positive education, Maggie was also eligible to apply for the Bei Shan Tang Scholarship. She explains, “The foundation and I, we share the same vision and mission in advancing positive education in Hong Kong. Also, for nourishing a flourishing school community in Hong Kong.” She is “wholeheartedly grateful” to have been awarded the scholarship and says, “the scholarship really allowed me to turn my dream and calling into practice.”
Dr. Zhao’s academic research over the past 15 years has focused on theoretical perspectives, methodological approaches, and assessment instruments that contribute to a deeper understanding of human learning and development. The subject of her capstone project is the measurement of well-being. Maggie says, “I am thankful for the tremendous support I have received from the MAPP program in pursuing what I feel has the potential to have a positive impact on an individual and community level.” After finishing the MAPP program, Dr. Zhao plans to focus her work on advancing, applying, and spreading the science of human flourishing. “I hope to continuously contribute to the enhancement of positive student learning experience. And I hope to continue the journey of studying well-being measurement from multiple approaches,” including psychometrics, which is her specialty.
One course that Maggie really enjoyed was Humanities and Human Flourishing, instructed by Program Director James Pawelski. In this course, students had the opportunity to explore experiential and cultural assignments, such as creating a work of visual art and listening to music. “I've gone through many years of studies in different degree programs, but I rarely had a professor or course that asked us to listen to music or do a painting for homework!” She found value in the course on both an academic and a personal level. “I personally really resonate with both art and science. Academically, I'm interested in the science of well-being; non-academically, I’m passionate about discovering the art of well-being through the lens of arts and humanities.”
In her professional life, Maggie has been inspired by psychologist Jane Dutton, one of the guest speakers in the MAPP classroom, and her work on high-quality connections. Dutton identifies the four pillars of high-quality connections as being respectful engagement, trust, task enabling, and play, and Maggie has been impressed by how these pillars are exhibited in the MAPP program. As a sign of the “respect” that faculty has for students—and as a way to nurture the virtual community of the cohort—she says that for Christmas, each student received a personalized note. In addition to being provided with opportunities to attend virtual movie nights and other social events, the students were also ‘fooled’ on April 1st, examples of how the program values “play.”
Maggie has embraced the entirely remote format of the program. “The level of engagement, intellectual stimulation of the discussions, and also the connection with the faculty and my fellow students is really amazing.” Being in Hong Kong, when she remotely attends the once-monthly weekend of synchronous sessions, she is engaged online between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in her local time; however, she says the “on-site” classes are “like magic that cure my virtual jetlag.”
Maggie’s advice for people considering applying to MAPP is “just go for it.” Since the program will be offered fully online again for the 2021-2022 academic year, she hopes that people living internationally will see it as an opportunity to apply since they won’t have to figure out the logistics of travelling to Philadelphia on a monthly basis. For Maggie, the program has exceeded her expectations. She says, “Beyond a systematic learning, we had a chance to hear the newest perspectives and insights and the cutting-edge research from positive psychology scholars all over the world, not only from Penn.” Even though her courses in MAPP are coming to an end, she says, “I feel like the spirit of MAPP continues in my daily life. Once a MAPPster always a MAPPster.”