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The Official Baldrige Blog

Focus on the 2015 Judges’ Panel: Judge Fonda Vera

Who are the folks who judge applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award? In an ongoing blog series, we have been interviewing members of the 2015 Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In the interviews, they share their insights and perspectives on the award process, on their experiences, and on the Baldrige framework and approach to organizational improvement.

Following is the interview of Fonda Vera, a second-year judge. Vera is executive dean of planning, research, effectiveness, and development at Richland College (PDF), the first and only community college to date to receive a Baldrige Award (in 2005).

What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?

I began my involvement with the Baldrige Program as an applicant in 1999. I was one of the writers of [Richland College’s] numerous state and national applications. Just writing the application and studying the Criteria from that point of view was a wonderful learning experience, not only in learning about the Criteria but also about my own organization. After we were [named] a Baldrige Award recipient in 2005, I became a national examiner. I was fortunate enough to go on a site visit the very first year and also for the next two years in a row. In total, I have participated in four site visits, and I have led one. It was an incredible honor to be chosen to sit on the panel of judges.

You have a great deal of experience in the education sector. How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to education organizations?

The Baldrige Excellence Framework is invaluable to education. The education sector is buffeted about by ongoing state and national legislative changes, calls for accountability demanding more performance with less funding, and students who are less and less prepared—for a multitude of reasons—for success in education and ultimately in life. The Baldrige Excellence Framework is the rudder for the education sector in that stormy sea. It empowers organizations to address their reason for being by maintaining focus and discipline to achieve student success.

How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts to your current work experience/employer?

Richland College has used Baldrige principles and the framework since 1999. It quickly became the way we do business. We have been fortunate to have consistency in leadership, which I believe is key. This discipline of following the Criteria is not always easy, but it is hard to argue with the good results it produces. Our college’s vision of being the best place we can be to learn, teach, and build sustainable local and world community fits perfectly with the Baldrige core values and concepts.

As a judge, what are your hopes for the judging process? In other words, as a judge what would you like to tell applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants about the rigor of the process? 

As a current judge, a previous applicant, and a previous award recipient, I would say to potential applicants that following the Baldrige Criteria and writing an application is one of the best things you can do for your organization. It will cause you to examine what you do, why you do it, and for whom you do it in a way that you’ve never done before. Using the Socratic Method, this deep dive into your organization’s business will reveal opportunities to improve and strengths you may never have known existed. The challenge and the rigor for each organization is to have the discipline to take what is learned, act on it, and invest in the discipline for the long haul. The rewards are many if you follow this path.

What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners who are reviewing award applications now?

I encourage all Baldrige examiners who are reviewing award applications to do their absolute best to understand the applicant they are reviewing and to make comments that are relevant and will move the applicant to the next level of maturity. This is not only important to the applicant but also is vital to the judging process. While the examining process is certainly very hard work, take the time to enjoy the intellectual challenge and the camaraderie that accompanies it. It is indeed a unique experience.

See other blogs on the 2015 Judges’ Panel: Laura Huston, Dr. Ken Davis, Michael Dockery, Dr. Greg Gibson, Miriam N. Kmetzo, Dr. Sharon L. Muret-Wagstaff, Dr. Mike R. Sather, Ken Schiller, Dr. Sunil K. Sinha, Dr. John C. Timmerman, and Roger M. Triplett.

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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Baldrige could be more accurately described as as a trim tab, the small rudder-like mechanism at the top of rudders (ships) or leading edges of ailerons or stabilizers (aircraft) that make it easier for the pilot (the senior leaders) to maneuver the vehicle (the organization) against the physical forces that buffet it (the environment).
I work at a community college in Michigan and have had the privilege to work with Fonda Vera through Baldrige and other community college organizations. Fonda and the team at Richland College exemplify how Baldrige in education produces sustainable performance excellence. They are proud to share their best practices and have helped countless colleges and individuals in their Baldrige journeys!

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