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Administrative Improvement Award winners help university run more smoothly

May 9, 2017

Three teams and one individual whose efforts led to substantial improvements in administrative services at UW–Madison have been selected to receive the university’s 2017 Administrative Improvement Award.

The award recipients are being recognized for their exceptional work in administrative roles supporting academics, research, student services, outreach or administration.

“These deserving award recipients set a high standard for how administrative improvements can make a preeminent university even stronger,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “I appreciate their resourcefulness and the results they produced.”

Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller says the award winners were selected from a highly competitive field of nominees.

“The award winners helped make UW–Madison a more effective institution by improving the overall campus experience for students, faculty, staff and community partners,” Heller says.

The award recipients will be honored Tuesday, May 23, at Union South. The ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m. The campus community is invited.

Winners of the 2017 Administrative Improvement Award are:

College of Letters & Science (L&S) Academic Information Management Team
Mike Pflieger, Nicole Wiessinger, Amy Kuether and Randall Wentz

The Letters & Science team worked to reduce curriculum exceptions, which are modifications to approved requirements of an academic program. Exceptions are a high-effort/low-yield endeavor and may indicate problems with the approved requirements of a degree, major or certificate program. The number of exceptions to L&S degree requirements began to increase in 2003 and was at 150 percent of historic levels by 2012. In addition, the process for requesting, approving and implementing exceptions was considered confusing, inefficient and costly.

The team’s improvement approach combined data analysis, technical innovation, process improvement, stakeholder involvement and culture change. A key strategy was to use the DARS-X online exception system as a vehicle for communication and outreach.

As a result, curriculum exceptions have been reduced by 55 percent and continue to trend downward. In 2016, the college conferred more degrees to students than exceptions for the first time in nearly 20 years. Users report that the current process is efficient and user-friendly. Use of the DARS-X exception system is expanding to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Office of Human Resources e-Benefits Implementation Team
Diane Blaskowski, Jennifer Wissmiller, Karly Walker, Meghan McKenna, Joan Braley, Barb Walters, Deanna DeSlover, Sharon Christian-Gunderson, Debra Brunette, Thomasin Propson, Katelyn Howen, Lauren Lindley, Danielle Peterson, Christopher Calkins, Susan Adams, Pat Cady, Mary Moore and Carla Raatz

UW-Madison employees previously were required to enroll in all benefits programs using paper forms. The manual process had many administrative steps, opportunities for error, and constraints. There also were significant security concerns with benefit application forms containing numerous items of personally identifiable information.

The Office of Human Resources (OHR) Benefits Services team determined that UW–Madison could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the benefits enrollment process by using e-Benefits capabilities. Gains would include cost savings due to reduced staff time, drastic reductions in paper and fax expenses, security improvements, fewer hand-offs in the workflow and improved accuracy. The team gathered ideas from divisional representatives and university employees and developed a project plan to implement e-Benefits during the open enrollment period in fall 2016.

Implementation of e-Benefits was an unqualified success. About 93 percent of UW–Madison employees who changed their benefits successfully enrolled via the new e-Benefits tool. Employee satisfaction across campus was high with employees reporting they appreciated the flexibility and ease of use. The new process resulted in 90 percent less paper being used than in past years with the virtual elimination of employees enrolling via the manual process.

Financial Aid Awarding Process Team
Derek Kindle, Vera Abing, Sarah Blevins, Keith Brown, Ozzyie Chen, Mary Condon, Karie Cunningham, Martina Diaz, Joselyn Diaz-Valdes, John Dreger, Clyde Gaines, Eric Gentz, Karyn Graham, Jeff Hahn, Trish Haza, Heidi Johnson, Doug Jorewicz, Lauren Klink, Shane Maloney, Darren Martin, Kristen McRoberts, Jeff Pfund, Lea Polizzi, Tim Putzier, Todd Reck, Nicole Schumacher, Rick Schumal, Lynne Siewert, Cori Splain, Phia Vang, Karla Weber, Alex White, Amy Whitford, John Whitt and Maggie Zabinski

The Office of Student Financial Aid reviewed practices and policies that were creating unnecessary obstacles to applying for financial aid and deterring some students (often the lowest-income students) from completing the financial aid process. This included a verification process that required students to complete and submit extensive paperwork even though they were not obligated to do so by the federal government. The cumbersome verification and document-intake process substantially delayed approval and delivery of financial aid awards.

The office developed a new verification policy and transitioned from a document process requiring paper forms, mail, faxes and hand-delivery of documents to one focusing on digital submissions and electronic signatures.

Compared to the previous year, 2,159 fewer students have been selected for verification — a decrease of 58 percent. The process has gone substantially faster for students as they have completed verification documents online. These improvements enabled the financial aid office to broaden outreach to students without adding staff. Due to increased outreach and process improvements, the office began making awards to undergraduates earlier than ever. The office awarded 10,499 undergraduates on Feb. 14, which was two months earlier and 2,127 more awards than the previous year.

Ann Swenson, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Swenson was appointed in 2015 to a new position of director of advancement and donor relations and executive assistant to the director of the Nelson Institute. The position was created to address historic challenges, emerging opportunities and budgetary needs of the institute. Swenson is responsible for managing the Nelson Institute’s relationship with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, maintaining the institute’s donor relations program and developing and implementing a communications strategy.

Swenson created an entire advancement office essentially from scratch. She worked with academic program chairs and research center directors so they can better understand and control their philanthropic funds. She worked closely with members of the institute’s board of visitors to expand the institute’s network and reach into new areas. She also collaborated with the Academic Program Office to develop an annual scholarship award process, which culminates in a May recognition ceremony.

Swenson raised the Nelson Institute’s profile to external constituencies and increased the morale of internal groups. As a result, the institute’s “new normal” year in gifts has more than doubled historic expectations. An improved set of practices has become standard and will help lead to long-term financial stability for the Institute.

Tags: staff awards