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The Official Baldrige Blog

Focus on the 2020 Baldrige Judges: Meet Meridith Wentz

Baldrige Judges Panel Meridith Wentz with a background panel of people having a discussion.

2020 Judges Panel Blog Series

Each year we interview the newest members of the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to share their individual insights and perspectives on the award process, their experiences, and the Baldrige framework and approach to organizational improvement in general.

The primary role of the Judges’ Panel is to ensure the integrity of the Baldrige Award selection process. Based on a review of results of examiners’ scoring of written applications (the Independent and Consensus Review processes), judges vote on which applicants merit Site Visit Review (the third and final examination stage) to verify and clarify their performance in all seven Criteria categories of the Baldrige Excellence Framework. The judges also review reports from site visit to recommend to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce which organizations to name as U.S. role models—Baldrige Award recipients. No judge participates in any discussion of an organization for which he/she has a real or perceived conflict of interest. Judges serve for a period of three years.

Meet Baldrige Judge Meridith Wentz

Meridith Wentz photo

Meridith Wentz
Assistant Chancellor for Planning, Assessment, Research and Quality
University of Wisconsin-Stout



What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?

I was introduced to the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence when University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout) was in the process of applying for the Baldrige Award. [UW-Stout received the Baldrige Award in 2001.] I saw, firsthand, how this framework helped us grow and improve. It helped us move from collecting too much data to focusing more narrowly on the performance metrics most importance 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.

Years later, I had the opportunity to serve as a Baldrige examiner. I found that there is no better way to learn the Baldrige Criteria than to see them in action at other organizations. Although every site visit in which I participated was unique, the organizations shared an unmistakable sense of energy, support, community, and enthusiasm. Even though many of these organizations were outside of my sector, I left each feeling like I wanted to work for that organization. I learned many best practices great leaders use to support an organization. I learned how not only to track data for organizational improvement but also to embed it into the fabric of the organization through process integration, cycles of improvement, and continual review and discussions at multiple levels of the organization. I also listened to many passionate stories from employees who felt supported by their organizations; from them, I learned strategies to ensure that people know they are valued.

Serving as a judge will give me the opportunity to see even more ways that the Baldrige Criteria help organizations learn and grow. The community of examiners, judges, and Baldrige Performance Excellence Program staff has been extremely supportive, and I’ve met many like-minded people that I continue to interact with and learn from outside of Baldrige trainings, meetings, and site visits. I look forward to learning from and interacting with the judges on this panel in the same way.

How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to organizations in your sector?

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. For example, processes within higher education for listening to employees and customers in real time have gotten better as a result of learning about rounding in the health care industry. Our processes for managing data and drilling down from the organization level to the individual level have gotten better through practices such as the balanced scorecard that were primarily used first in other sectors.

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

In my current position is assistant chancellor for planning, assessment, research and quality at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, I’m fortunate to be able to apply Baldrige principles on a regular basis. For example, our strategic planning process is based on the relevant questions in the Baldrige Criteria. We recently revised the charge of our Strategic Planning Group to align even more directly with category 2 (Strategy) of the Baldrige framework. Another example is that, in alignment with the Baldrige framework, we have integrated a quality initiative that is part of our accreditation process into our strategic planning process. We are currently beginning the process of developing our next strategic plan, FOCUS2030. As part of that, we are confirming our core competencies, which is an element of the Organizational Profile [the preface to the Baldrige Criteria]. We are also in the process of refining our methods for assessing workforce engagement and revisiting our key drivers of workforce engagement. 

Baldrige has become embedded in the way we operate. We even have a committee on campus that is dedicated to infusing the Baldrige framework into how we operate. 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 use of data is embedded at all levels of the organization.

What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners for their work in evaluating organizations as part of the Baldrige Award process?

Baldrige examiners serve a critical role in the Baldrige Award process. One of the reasons the process works is that it brings together a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, from different sectors, and with different levels of experience. I think it’s important for Baldrige examiners to share their perspectives, even if they differ from the rest of the group. One person’s unique perspective can alter the thinking of the entire group. 

All of my professional experience is in higher education, and I remember the first time I went on a site visit for a health care applicant. I wondered when people were going to stop talking in acronyms and if I was ever going to understand what people were saying. But an extremely supportive examiner team made all of the difference. They helped summarize difficult concepts in ways that someone outside of health care could understand. They jumped in and asked questions during interviews when I wasn’t sure of the right questions to ask. In the Baldrige program, we often say to “trust the process.” I have seen over and over that the process works. Working through the process can be challenging at times, but my advice is to not give up, to lean on your colleagues, to trust the process. And when you do that, the experience is rewarding, you learn many excellent strategies to promote performance excellence, and you become part of a supportive, creative, and knowledgeable community of learners.

Judges Panel Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Allison Carter (Panel Chair)
Glenn Crotty
Christopher Laxton
Kevin McManus
Brigitta Mueller
Bruce Requa
Patricia Skriba
JoAnn Sternke

2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit cover artwork

Baldrige Excellence Framework

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

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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