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Retiring Berg looks forward to a future of mystery

May 14, 2013 By Greg Bump

If Joanne Berg’s career history were to be summed up in a mystery book title, it might be called “The Case of the Woman Who Wore Many Hats.”

Photo: Joanne Berg

Joanne Berg

Berg, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s vice provost for enrollment management, has announced that she will retire this summer. During her 26 years at the UW, she has stepped into many roles. But her next role, as owner of a mystery bookshop, could be the most intriguing.

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to own a bookstore,” Berg says.

Berg’s move from enrollment czar to bookseller has a hint of destiny to it. She had been giving consideration to retirement for some time, but didn’t think her dream of bookstore ownership would be part of those plans because of the prevalence of online retail.

As it happens, one day she was looking through the newspaper and saw an article about local mystery bookseller Booked for Murder going up for sale. Long story short, Berg negotiated a price for the store’s inventory and bookshelves and is opening a new store, which she will call Mystery to Me, on Monroe Street.

“The store will be a place for readers as well as writers,” Berg says. “I have some people interested in hosting workshops on writing. Authors, regardless of how books are published, still want places to talk about what they’re writing. So I’m certainly going to sell paper books and work on e-commerce and various ways to connect with writers and readers through technology.”

Adapting to new challenges has been a theme throughout Berg’s career. She came to UW–Madison in 1987, arriving from the University of Puget Sound Law School, where she was director of admissions. She initially worked in the UW’s Graduate School and earned an MBA here.

Eventually, Berg was appointed interim registrar and soon took over the position permanently. She continued as registrar even after being appointed UW–Madison’s first vice provost of enrollment management in 2004.

“There has to be something more to what we do than just get [students] in and close the door and let someone else take care of them.”

Joanne Berg

In addition, Berg stepped in as the university’s chief information officer on an interim basis from July 2010 to June 2011.

“I like adventure,” she says with a chuckle.

Provost Paul DeLuca Jr. says Berg has provided critical leadership to the university across an astounding range of expertise, but in particular to adapting new technologies in enrollment management.

“Joanne is known as someone who is extremely positive, continually engaged in professional development, and has always been exceedingly good at communicating goals to her staff,” DeLuca says. “She has been a pleasure to work with and I wish her the best in her new endeavor.”

DeLuca intends to move quickly in appointing a search committee to fill the vice provost position.

In her role as leader of the enrollment management division, Berg has been responsible for undergraduate admissions, the Office of Student Financial Aid, the Office of the Registrar and the Integrated Student Information System. The division works closely with the schools and colleges, which have their own enrollment goals, to help them determine their capacity.

“I think that because of our decentralized approach at UW–Madison, having these four offices as a unit helps to build an infrastructure that facilitates local control of the student, advisor and faculty interaction,” she says.

“The number one thing we have to do is be agile — also true for bookstores!”

Joanne Berg

The Division of Enrollment Management under Berg has stressed the continuum of services that a student should receive from the university from the time they apply to post-graduation.

“There has to be something more to what we do than just get them in and close the door and let someone else take care of them,” she says.

Berg says the business of tracking admissions has improved due to technological advances.

“I didn’t have Excel back in the ‘80s,” she says of her days at the University of Puget Sound. “What we did was use a set of different-colored cards that I had all the applicants names and demographics on and we’d count the cards and figure out who was most likely to come.”

When she started at the Graduate School at UW–Madison, there was an office known as “the Wang room” that housed one giant Wang computer. Employees had to sign in on a sheet to use it, mainly for word processing.

“Otherwise, we had Selectric typewriters on our desk,” Berg says.

One of Berg’s fondest memories was the information campaign that surrounded the conversion from a telephone-based class registration system to an online system in 2002. Part of the effort to get the word out to students was placing rubber ducks across campus with the URL of the registration site printed on them.

“The registrar’s office employees got up at 5 a.m. and we did Operation Duck Drop,” Berg recalls. “We had the ducks lining Bascom Hill, in fountains all over campus. That was just great fun.”

Berg says admissions and enrollment departments must continue to cross-train employees and be ready to respond to new developments quickly.

“The number one thing we have to do is be agile — also true for bookstores!” says Berg.