Psychology professor helps support Olympic dream

Psychology professor Ken Hart had an extraordinary Olympic moment last week when ice dance silver medalist Tessa Virtue mentioned his Positive Psychology course during an interview with CBC radio host Tony Doucette in a live interview from Sochi.

Virtue, a third-year UWindsor psychology student, gave kudos to Dr. Hart for the impact his class has had on her skating career and possible future plans to pursue a graduate degree in the specialty.

“It’s all about being in flow and living an engaged and meaningful life,” Virtue told Doucette. She says she carries Hart’s assigned textbook with her.

“I was honoured and I was humbled that she found the course not only intellectually helpful but that she’s using elements of the class in pursuit of a worthwhile goal,” Hart says. “The course meant something to her so I’m very happy with that.”

The skater, one half of the Virtue/Moir ice dance team that has taken the world by storm this Olympic games, has kept in touch with her professor and has shifted the focus of her future pursuits from law to positive psychology, Hart says.

He says his course is of intrinsic interest to students because, “there isn’t a person anywhere who doesn’t want to upgrade the quality of their life.”

Hart invites all of his students to participate in “active participation exercises” to examine how course materials may be personally useful to each of them in their own lives.

“We look at way to identify your talents, abilities, strengths and gifts and use what you’ve identified for the purpose of achieving worthwhile goals,” Hart says. “There is that sense that you’re getting closer to seeing your dream come true and one of the side-effects is a sense of satisfaction with your life and what we call happiness.”

The professor says he takes great satisfaction in knowing that students enjoy his classes and take lifelong skills away from his teaching.

“It’s more than just information dissemination,” he says. “Part of what is going on is character development—character education, where students come to know what they’re good at and look at opportunities in life to achieve what they think is worthwhile.”

Hart says feedback from Virtue and the dozens of other students who stay after class to chat is an outstanding motivator for his own teaching and research pursuits.

“She has actually increased my sense of work satisfaction and life satisfaction because I feel that my own activities are making a difference to my students.”