An assistant chancellor at University of Wisconsin-Stout has become the university’s first staff member of the judges panel for the Malcolm S. Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest honor for organizational innovation and performance excellence.
Meridith Wentz, assistant chancellor for Planning, Assessment, Research and Quality, was named a judge for the panel last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology announced.
Wentz was named by the secretary of Commerce to serve a three-year term on the panel.
In 2001, UW-Stout became the first and still is the only four-year higher educational institution to receive the award.
The primary role of the judge’s panel is to ensure the integrity of the Baldrige Award selection process.
All applicants are evaluated rigorously by an independent board of examiners in seven areas defined by the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence: leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce; operations; and results.
Based on these assessments, the highest-ranking applicants are chosen for an on-site visit by a team of examiners to clarify questions and verify information.
As one of 12 judges on the panel, Wentz will be responsible for selecting which applicants receive site visits, and ultimately, are recommended to the secretary of Commerce as Baldrige Award recipients.
Wentz, of Menomonie, said she is excited to serve as a judge, having found the Baldrige community to be supportive.
“I think it is going to broaden my perspective of learning from other organizations,” said Wentz, a Wausau native. “Higher education has much to learn from other sectors. We tend to get stuck in the same ways of doing things, and the Baldrige framework helps us get unstuck by promoting cross-sector learning. Serving as a judge will give me the opportunity to see even more ways that the Baldrige criteria help organizations learn and grow,” she said.
In a letter, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross congratulated Wentz on her appointment. “I am very enthusiastic about the award’s contribution in helping the United States reach the highest performance objectives,” he said. “The award has evolved significantly over the past 30 years to remain at the leading edge of validated management practice and to drive improvement in U.S. organizations. The Judges Panel plays a critical role in the evolution of the award for this purpose.”
Before becoming a member of the panel, Wentz was introduced to the Baldrige Award when UW-Stout was in the process of applying. She was hired in the budget, planning and analysis office to help with writing the application.
“I saw, firsthand, how this framework helped us grow and improve,” Wentz said. “It helped us move from collecting too much data to focusing more narrowly on the performance metrics most important to us. It also helped us document processes in ways that led us to understand what was working, how to continually evaluate our processes and how to make improvements. It helped us understand that the best approach to performance excellence wasn’t about using a one-size-fits-all checklist but, rather, about understanding what was most important to us and using our unique approaches to make those things work for us.”
Wentz was a national Baldrige examiner for nine years, evaluating and providing feedback to organizations across the U.S.
In 2019, she was named a master examiner on the board. Master examiners must have seven years of experience, must have served as a team leader for consensus and on-site reviews and serve as coaches for other team members.
In the PARQ office at UW-Stout, Wentz oversees strategic planning and accountability; institutional research and assessment; university accreditation; quality initiatives; university policies; and the Applied Research Center, which specializes in providing research and evaluation services to other educational institutions.
Wentz has a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in educational policy and administration. She has been involved extensively with Baldrige efforts at UW-Stout, presenting on strategic planning, leadership and performance measurement.
Wisconsin Forward Award Board of Examiners
Earlier this year, four UW-Stout employees were named to the Board of Examiners for the Wisconsin Forward Award, which is the Baldrige national quality award program for Wisconsin.
They included Andrei Ghenciu, associate professor in the mathematics, statistics and computer science department; interim Provost Glendali Rodriguez; Maria Alm, interim dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences; and Emily Whitcomb, Admissions Office transfer coordinator.
According to the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence website, the Wisconsin Forward Award is Wisconsin’s premier recognition for workplace excellence.
It was created in 1997 by Gov. Tommy Thompson and the Council for Workforce Investment to advance Wisconsin organizations in the international marketplace and to enhance learning, continuous improvement and enterprise performance.
Baldrige at UW-Stout
At UW-Stout, Wentz said she applies Baldrige principles regularly. The Strategic Planning Group has been aligned more directly with strategy from the Baldrige framework. The university is also developing the next strategic plan, FOCUS 2030. As part of that, campus officials are confirming core competencies, refining methods and revisiting key drivers of workforce engagement.
“Although most people on campus would not be able to recite the Baldrige criteria, they would be able to tell you about our methods for valuing people, about how we use participatory processes to develop and implement strategy, and about how the use of data is embedded at all levels of the organization,” Wentz said.
Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th secretary of Commerce, the award was established by Congress in 1987.
Awards may be given annually to organizations in each of six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, education, health care and nonprofit. The award promotes innovation and excellence in organizational performance, recognizes the achievements and results of U.S. organizations and publicizes successful performance strategies.