Published Article on State and Regional Baldrige Programs

 Published Article on State and Regional Baldrige Programs

State and regional Baldrige programs provide the networking and tools that support organizations in improving their performance excellence and achieving recognition for a state Baldrige award.  Many of these organizations go on to become recipients of the prestigious Baldrige National Quality Award. 

I am delighted to announce that Julie Furst-Bowe and I have published an article titled “Stately Manner” in the April 2017 issue of ASQ’s Quality Progress.   A link to the article is at:

This article describes the success of the state and regional Baldrige programs and the collaborative Alliance for Performance Excellence.  It highlights the process of applying for the state or regional Baldrige award with a discussion of the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence's award program for the state of Wisconsin.  The article especially guides the reader on how to get started and some free resources for self-assessment in Baldrige thinking.

I hope that the article encourages more organizations to start their Baldrige journey in continuous improvement and performance excellence.  The state and regional programs provide an excellent resource often overlooked by organizations seeking to improve their excellence. 

I especially was motivated to write this article in the hope that more schools and colleges will network with their state or regional Baldrige programs to continue their journals in educational excellence.

Have a Successful Baldrige Experience!

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow



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Michigan's 21st Century Education Commission Report: Weak on a Continuous Improvement Paradigm

Michigan's 21st Century Education Commission Report: Weak on a Continuous Improvement Paradigm

In early 2016, Michigan’s Governor Snyder created a 21st Century Education Commission to address improving the education system for the children in Michigan. Recently, the Commission generated its report of recommendations. Information on the Commission and its reports is available at

This blog suggests the need for more focus on continuous improvement strategies in the Commission's plan for improving education, including the use of Lean Six Sigma and the Baldrige systems thinking. 

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Is the Smartness Culture Getting in the Way of Helping More Students Graduate?

Is the Smartness Culture Getting in the Way of Helping More Students Graduate?

In reading my twitter feed, I came across a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Obsessed with Smartness” by James M. Lang.

The article is an insightful commentary on Alexander W. Astin’s 2016 book In Are You Smart Enough? How Colleges’ Obsession With Smartness Shortchanges Students. The book is a book worth reading. 

The blog summarizes and comments on Lang's article. 

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Michigan Colleges Graduation/Success Rates

Michigan Colleges Graduation/Success Rates

This Mlive article summarizes the improvement in graduation and success rates at Michigan public universities in 2015.  It includes a lookup table for your favorite Michigan college. As previous research has shown, many students take more than 4 years to graduate but persist to graduate in 6 years.  There are various reasons for taking longer to graduate. One is due to the cost of college, many students work part-time.

The article is based on the Center for Educational Performance and Information report “State of Michigan PostSecondary Success 2015 Report” released on July 12, 2016. The report shows that the graduation/success rate increased from 39% for graduation in 4 years to 65% in 6 years for all Michigan public universities.  

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Improving the Quality of Michigan's K-12 Education: Consider Baldrige

Improving the Quality of Michigan's K-12 Education: Consider Baldrige

The Detroit Free Press editorial board published an editorial on June 22, 2016 "In Michigan, it's not just Detroit schools that are in trouble", indicating that there is mounting evidence of a significant decline in the quality of K12 education in the state of Michigan.  It is not just Detroit schools that needs our attention.  Michigan is now ranked 40th among all states. 

This blog discusses the editorial and suggests that it may be the right time to revisit the Baldrige Performance Excellence program for its systems thinking in improving K-12 education.  Many schools have benefited with improved student learning outcomes, higher graduation rates and better preparation of their students for college and the workplace.   Links to introductory articles about the success of Baldrige systems thinking for schools are included. 

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Thoughts on Variability in Graduation Rates at Engineering Colleges

Thoughts on Variability in Graduation Rates at Engineering Colleges

As universities are celebrating commencement exercises with their graduates this month, it is an appropriate time to talk about graduation rates and congratulate engineering colleges with high graduation rates. 

One might ask: What is the range on graduation rates at U.S. engineering colleges. The answer may surprise you.  Some colleges graduate almost 100% of their students in 5 years; however, for some colleges, the graduation rate is less than 20%.  Read on to find out more about the variation in the 5-year graduation rates at U.S. engineering college and its relationship to first year retention. 

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The College Scorecard: How it was created

This U.S. Department of Education blog describes how the College Scorecard was generated, the data that was included and the benefits of the Scorecard.

With a focus on being customer and student-focused, the developers of the College Scorecard talked with groups of high school students to ask them what would help them in their college searches.  To be agile, prototypes of examples for smart phones were quickly developed.  The article provides more information on how the Scorecard was developed and its usefulness to students and their families on their college choices and decisions.  

The College Scorecard is at

Cindy Veenstra, PhD


Women in Engineering: Thoughts on Progress

Women in Engineering: Thoughts on Progress

The May 2015 issue of the ASEE Connections reports that “The percentage of full-time undergraduate female engineering students graduating with a degree in engineering has declined in most disciplines during the past decade“ ("DataBytes").   Of 22 engineering disciplines, only general engineering, civil/environmental engineering and environmental engineering show that the percentage of women graduates increased in the past decade, from 2005 to 2014.  The overall percentage of full-time undergraduate women engineering students graduating in any engineering discipline in 2014 is the same as it was in 2005, recovering from a decrease after 2005. ("Engineering By the Numbers", ASEE, 2013) This post discusses the published statistics and then highlights a new research report by AAUW on strategies for increasing the number of women in engineering .   

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What Can the Quality Gurus Teach Us?

I have been thinking lately about the quality gurus and how their philosophies relate to university student success. 

Walter Shewhart and Phil Crosby defined quality in terms of meeting stated specifications.  Did a product meet engineering specification?  At a university, we might use this approach to ask if a student showed mastery of a subject by achieving an A or B in a course.  Or does a university meet the accreditation requirements? 

Joseph Juran was known for his quality trilogy and focus on  including quality improvement.   From a student perspective, has the student increased his/her knowledge during a semester.  From a faculty perspective, do the learning outcomes assessments show improvement in learning outcomes over multiple semesters?  How is significant improvement in student learning outcomes achieved? With improve learning outcomes, more students should achieve higher grades.

W. Edwards Deming and his 14 points of quality management stressed the importance of the system in supporting the work to be done and the importance of customer satisfaction.   If the student is considered a customer, does the student feel he/she is receiving the course knowledge that will help them in their careers?  Then, the course will be considered of great value, eventually leading to alum support.  Is the entire educational system helping students to achieve their goals?  More is needed than to lecture a student to do better, instead explain to them the process of learning through improved teaching and advising.   Design the teaching processes that support the learning processes; these must be continually improved upon to support students.  Then the student learns more and is empowered by his/her learning. 

Noriaki Kano proposed the Kano model, that by exceeding a customer’s needs and exciting the customer about a product, customer satisfaction increases.  With time, customers’ excitement needs increases, so the product needs to improve. Likewise, at universities, if universities exceed students’ needs by inspiring them in the classroom with real-world examples and relevant projects, students will become more satisfied, learn more,  and most likely will earn higher grades .  But it is also true that the expectations are always increasing; the universities with innovative teaching will have excellent enrollments and graduation rates.  

Student-focused cultures that include these ideas  will have higher retention rates and satisfied alums. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow

The Joy of Learning Engineering and Education Quality

"We are here to learn, to make a difference and to have fun" - W. Edwards Deming  

In my ASQ Education Brief article, “STEM Demands Innovation” published in February in celebration of Engineers’ Week, I wrote of some of the latest innovative thinking for both exciting students about STEM careers and improving engineering education.  This blog continues that discussion, addressing the joy of learning.   Two very relevant and recently published books provide insight to the Joy of learning and will be highlighted in the discussions in this blog.  I recommend reading both books. They are: 

A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville

 Joy Inc : How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan


K-12 STEM Outreach: Starting the Journey to Student Joy in Learning 

In “STEM Demands Innovation”, I wrote of STEM(science-technology-engineering-math) outreach efforts such as the FIRST Robotics competition that has made such a huge difference in inspiring high school students about engineering and STEM, and bringing them the joy of learning.  It cannot be overstated how much fun students have at these competitions!  Key to FIRST are corporate partnerships within a community; employees volunteer their expertise to FIRST teams and provide technical know-how and mentoring on engineering and teamwork.  

There are a number of significant and well-established outreach programs;  I have listed my favorite ones in my K-12 links.   Many companies have supported STEM outreach;  I hope more companies will join the call for participation. Often employees find joy and fun in volunteering.  With the current expected shortage of U.S. STEM professionals, it is imperative that STEM outreach programs are supported.     

The Importance of Joy of Learning in Developing the "Whole New Engineer"

Engineering education research has been a driving force in guiding engineering colleges in transformative initiatives to improve both instruction and pedagogy for effective, experiential learning.  But often, it is not enough. Professors assume that the students are already motivated in an engineering career, when students have their own doubts, especially when the courses get tough and they cannot see their future in engineering in 4-6 years. Professors and their assistants may not be engaging enough and connect with campus issues that students are experiencing.   In addition, a student may feel he/she does not fit in and drop-out.  Students experiencing the joy of learning and colleges/faculty celebrating with students on their successes or achieving milestones such as completion of a course project, gaining secondary admission or completion of an internship will go a long way in engaging students and achieving a higher student retention rate.   

As I discussed in my article, A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education (ThreeJoy Associates, 2014) is a new book that recommends a significant cultural transformation for engineering education.  The authors, David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville, propose an increased focus on a real student-centered culture.  Their five-pillar educational transformational model of values  joy, trust, courage, connection and openness rings true for student success and is consistent with a student-centered, quality-oriented educational culture.  It encourages students' deep-learning, creative thinking and the students' confident view of becoming engineers.   Less focus on a “weeding-out”culture, and more on coaching and mentoring for student success and an enjoyable learning experiences. As a result, students feel they are empowered and inspired in their academic/career paths as future engineers.   Some engineering colleges already have or are making the transformation to  a student-focused learning  culture. This book provides a model and recommendations for a more complete transformation. 

Joy of Learning at Engineering Colleges and in the Workplace : A Quality Experience

In A Whole New Engineer, the authors propose that the " joy pillar" for a successful engineering education program includes three kinds of joy:

  •          “the joy of engineering in designing and making”
  •          “ the joy of close relationships”
  •          “the joy in growth and development”.

Together, they define an integrated view of joy of learning.  

When I read A Whole New Engineer, I was reminded of the research and work of quality management expert Myron Tribus on joy of learning and quality in education. Tribus was one of the early leaders (starting in the 1970s) on defining successful quality in education systems,  empowering students in their learning, including in engineering colleges.  Since then, these ideas on Quality in Education have been expanded upon by Franklin Schargel, David Langford, Lee Jenkins and others, and successfully applied in schools.  

In his article,  “Total Quality in Schools of Business and Engineering”,  Tribus wrote ,

” QUALITY in education is what makes learning a pleasure and a joy…  It takes a quality experience to create an independent learner…Teachers must be ever alert to engage the students in a discussion of what constitutes a quality experience.”  

 Tribus’ joy of learning provided me the insight that we may connect the ideas in A Whole New Engineer, ideas that are very engineering education-centric , with the ideas from the field of Quality in Education.   A strong connection exists between a quality management system (and culture) for engineering education and  the  joy of learning engineering.  As I see it, if we do not start with joy and celebration of learning in the freshman year and finish with joy of learning from experiences in the senior year, somehow the engineering college has not accomplished its vision for its graduates. (Of course, the practices that lead to joy of learning must be integrated with the academic and teaching/learning processes that provide the rigor for an engineering education.)   Furthermore, without students having the joy of learning as seniors, we risk a lower retention of graduates as engaged practicing engineers.  Mentoring students throughout their college years  and helping them feel joy and celebrate their learning experiences matters for their future career.

The Culture of Joy in the Workplace

In support of these ideas, consider the discussion of a culture of joy from the workplace  perspective:  Richard Sheridan, author of Joy Inc : How We Built a Workplace People Love (Portfolio, 2013, 2015)  and CEO of  Menlo Innovations (Ann Arbor) writes in Joy Inc. of creating a culture of joy at Menlo Innovations.  He describe joy in the workplace as

" Joy is designing and building something that actually sees the light of day and is enjoyably used and widely adopted by the people for whom it was intended."

 In building this culture, he has adopted many ideas from lean methodology and quality management.  In connecting quality thinking with the "joy" workplace culture, Sheridan writes:

"Alongside all the practices that contribute to quality at Menlo is the upward spiral of morale that comes from knowing you are operating within an environment where it is safe and respected to do good work.  Rigor and discipline are hard, and it's always easy to say, "Tomorrow I will do better." Tomorrow never comes- it is the actions we take today that make all the difference.  If you can get your entire team into a disciplined routine of applying a rigorous approach you all believe in, and the effects become noticeable, morale soars even if the rigor is difficult.  It is in these moments of rigor that the seeds of joy are planted.  When your team enjoys the fruits of their labor, there will be an undeniable satisfaction that boosts morale and gets everyone ready to do it all again." 

These thoughts transition well to engineering education. In any engineering education program, academic rigor and well-defined quality processes are needed to ensure a quality education, and with a culture that celebrates joy of learning, there is a sense of accomplishment, leading to joy.   

Corporate-Sponsored Internships Add to the Joy of Learning Engineering

In today’s engineering education programs, it is expected that students have had internships or co-ops with industry by the time they graduate.  A recent Gallup poll indicates that having an internship is one of the six college experiences linked to life-preparedness.  A well-planned internship/co-op program can also bring “joy of learning” to students.  Companies who sponsor internships or capstones can show students the possibilities of their career paths and the exciting challenges of engineering new products.

Summary: A Call for Joy of Learning 

In summary, a "Joy" culture belongs in engineering colleges as well as the STEM workplace.  We need more engineers, we need to replace “weeding out” students in the freshman and sophomore years, with supportive, inclusive and innovative curricula that excite students and bring them joy of learning,  such as experiencing hands-on “real-world” projects.   Engineering education leaders have the vision of students enjoying their college years, graduating and becoming successful engineers in their communities.  More can be done in our engineering colleges in creating a more student-centered "joy of learning" culture, leading to a quality education and the graduation of 21st century engineers serving their communities and enjoying their careers as engineers.  

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, Veenstra and Associates