What Berkeley’s Jason Marsh has in common with Captain America

Jason Marsh, executive director of the Grater Good Science Center.

Jason Marsh, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, has been named one of TIME magazine’s 27 people who are bridging divides across the U.S.

Jason Marsh may not wield a vibranium shield like Captain America. But like actor Chris Evans, who plays the Marvel superhero, the executive director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has made TIME magazine’s list of 27 people who are bridging divides across the United States.

Marsh is featured in TIME’s “Apart. Not Alone” series for his two decades of “translating and sharing research on social-emotional well-being, so that those outside academia can put it to use in their daily lives.”

“We’re getting recognition for work we’ve been doing at the Greater Good Science Center for the last 20 years, and it feels really gratifying,” said Marsh, a native of Long Island, New York, and a graduate of UC Berkeley’s journalism program. “There’s tremendous knowledge at UC Berkeley that can support people’s everyday lives, and we want to get that knowledge out into the community in the most accessible way.”

Marsh is in excellent company on the TIME list. In addition to Evans — who topped the list for efforts to boost an informed citizenry via his soon-to-be launched “A Starting Point” website — the bridge builders include Christopher Emdin, a Columbia University math and teaching professor; Patricia Tellez-Giron, a Latinx physician and educator; and Oregon bus driver Jody White, who goes out of her way to deliver lunches to school students on free and reduced meal plans.

As for Marsh, he arrived at UC Berkeley in 2002 when psychologists Dacher Keltner, Stephen Hinshaw and Caroline and Philip Cowan, among others, were just launching the Greater Good Science Center, which studies the psychology, sociology and  neuroscience of well-being and makes that research accessible to the general public. The center had received seed funding in 2001 from Berkeley alumni Thomas and Ruth Ann Hornaday.

Today, the center’s newsletter has more than 435,000 subscribers, and its Greater Good online magazine, of which Marsh is the founding editor-in-chief, averages nearly 1 million readers each month. The center also produces podcasts and online classes on the science of happiness.

The concept that humans are wired to be kind, and that empathy and cooperation are key to our survival, makes perfect sense to Marsh, who was raised around that ethos by parents who taught school and coached sports.

At 22, Marsh was a substitute kindergarten teacher at a Chinese dual-language immersion charter school in Washington, D.C. The students ranged from the offspring of college professors to children living in transitional housing.

“I had to figure out how to get all these kids from different walks of life operating like one big team,” he recalled. “I asked them to come up with rules for our class, and they came up with better rules than I could have: ‘No hitting.’ ‘Don’t take markers away from someone else.’ ‘Don’t rip the books.’ They were really all about treating one another with compassion and respect.”

Even the most boisterous kindergartners, he noted, showed tenderness toward others. Meanwhile, he said that he sensed a hunger among the school’s teachers and parents to learn about what works best to “help nudge kids to where they want to be.”

“In many ways, that experience led me to where I am today,” he said, “which is sharing knowledge from experts to help people get through tough times and thrive, even amidst crises like this COVID-19 pandemic.”

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On May 15, the Greater Good Science Center will host a live webcast on ‘Bridging Differences: A Day of Research-based Strategies for Dialogue and Understanding.’