Associate Director of Human Resources Mary Hegge Retiring After 20 Years at WCER

WCER colleagues weigh in on Hegge's expertise, caring, and calm approach

March 29, 2023   |   By WCER Communications

Mary Hegge's HR team has often used technology and training as a vehicle for process improvement.

Mary Hegge's HR team has often used technology and training as a vehicle for process improvement.

Associate Director of Human Resources Mary Hegge is retiring from WCER, where she will be long remembered—and missed—for her people-centered, two-decade career of continuous improvement.

Few people will leave a deeper imprint on WCER’s people, process and practices.

“I will always be grateful to Mary for giving me the opportunity to work with her in WCER human resources (HR), as I gained so much knowledge and expertise under Mary’s mentorship and encouragement,” says Kelly Krahenbuhl, who worked for Hegge for 4.5 years in the Business Office before becoming WIDA’s assistant director of HR in 2013. “I often say that Mary believed in me when I sometimes didn’t even believe in myself, and I’ve consistently seen her provide this same mentorship and support to the other HR professionals she has led throughout her career.”

“Her kindness and care always made me feel welcomed and appreciated,” agrees Irina Diaz, interim fee-for-service manager in the Business Office, where she has worked adjacent to Mary the last few years. “It has been a pleasure working with her. Mary’s hard work and dedication have been an example to all of us of a devoted professional. No matter how much she had on her plate, she was always willing to help.”

Hegge began her university career in November 2000, working as a program assistant in the Research and Sponsored Programs unit of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, where she provided administrative assistance to a large team of pre- and post-award staff. She joined WCER’s Business Office in December 2002 as a program assistant, too, working her way up to HR manager by 2008.

In 2014, Hegge was awarded the Claire Shaffer School of Education Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of her work quality and dedication to WCER. By 2017, she supervised a team of three (and now four) in the Business Office providing administrative, financial, and HR support, including onboarding and payroll for all WCER staff and eventually assistance in recruiting, hiring, benefits, compensation, and performance management services. Mentoring was always a focus.

“Mary is one of the kindest people I know; her empathy, openness to listening, and seeking a bright side in any adverse situation are great qualities for any supervisor and leader,” says Angel Cartagena, who worked for Hegge as an HR generalist before moving to a more advanced HR role in the Division of Student Affairs starting in January 2022. “Her ability to remain even-tempered in any situation and her superb writing skill are qualities I admire and will try to emulate in my career in HR. I will always be grateful for all the opportunities she provided during my five-year tenure at WCER and our experiences together, which were the foundation for my further career in HR on campus.”

Along the way, Hegge earned her bachelor’s degree in public administration, plus professional certification from the Society for Human Resources Management. Her title was changed to Associate Director of Human Resources in 2021 as part of a campus-wide retitling project.

“Over my 17 years at WCER, no matter how early I got to the building or how late, I always saw Mary’s light on, working away,” recalls WCER Deputy Director Mariana Castro. “She worked tirelessly because she has always been aware of the impact that HR has across all we do and across all we serve. Many of our managers and leaders relied on her to get us information on appointments, salaries, rules and guidelines and she always extended a hand, whether it was her responsibility or whether she was just helping make our lives easier. Our colleagues always recognized her care for our community, and regardless of roles—volunteers, staff, principal investigators (PIs)—Mary always had questions and suggestions to keep equity, fairness, and opportunity at the center of our decisions.”

One of those PIs, Sadhana Puntambekar, credits Hegge for helping her with staffing needs for many different projects funded by numerous federal grants—often running concurrently—during the past two decades the two have worked together.

“No matter how complex the question, Mary always had an answer and a solution,” says Puntambekar, Sears Bascom Professor of Educational Psychology. “And we sure had a lot of questions! I’ve lost count of how many times Mary has helped me, and how she has always been so patient and prompt to respond. She has always kept track of things that I needed to do, such as the performance reviews, and made sure those were done in a timely manner. It has been so reassuring to know that Mary would be able to help with any staffing questions. Always efficient, prompt, and ready to help. I will miss Mary a lot!”

Associate professor and PI Haley Vlach, director of the Learning, Cognition, and Development Lab, describes Hegge’s commitment to her job and WCER as “truly inspiring.”

“Whenever I didn’t know how to get something done, Mary would always be there to help me find my way,” Vlach says. “I have felt so grateful to have a colleague who is so supportive, even going above and beyond to email me back on an occasional night or weekend. Mary’s contributions have significantly contributed to the success of myself, other PIs, and WCER.”

Throughout her WCER career, which has spanned the full or partial tenures of five center directors, Hegge has encouraged employees to serve on WCER and campus committees and to further their professional development with classes and certificates. She has always lobbied for staff recognition and inclusion—among other things, organizing a team of WCER staff to address concerns expressed in a 2016 climate survey. A well-received, customized workshop on building a culture of inclusion for the center resulted in 2018. The following year, at Hegge’s urging, WCER’s classified staff members received increased recognition and representation through their inclusion on the center’s All Staff Advisory Committee.

“She’s an advocate for staff, not just leaders, and has remained positive through so many organizational changes,” says Tim Boals, founder and director of WIDA, which moved from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to WCER in 2006 with Hegge’s help. “She is the calm, reasoned, consummate professional, working extremely hard. She’s been supportive of WIDA in employee relations issues and provided guidance and insight into how to manage difficult situations. She has always been a joy to work with—steady, upbeat, and supportive. We love working with Mary and will miss her.”

Providing top-tier customer service has been the guiding goal of Hegge’s HR team, which has often used technology and training as a vehicle for process improvement. Hegge helped implement and train staff in using WCER’s in-house online performance management system, which pre-dated the current, campus-wide performance review system and gave WCER a well-organized system for managing staff performance reviews at a time when many other campus units couldn’t say the same.

“When I arrived at UW-Madison in 2016, Mary took the time to teach me about campus systems and policies, and WCER practices,” says PI Andy Garbacz, an associate professor in educational psychology. “Over the last few years, I have so appreciated continuing to learn from Mary. She has been a steady force with vast knowledge, deep expertise, and a calm approach that has advanced our projects in myriad important ways. I will miss learning from Mary and I will miss her collegiality. I wish her a happy and well-deserved retirement.”

In 2021, Hegge’s team was the first in the Business Office to use online forms to gather information from PIs and project managers, and today WCER’s HR team uses Asana software to manage many tasks, improving transparency on status updates and timelines for team members and fostering a more collaborative work environment.

“None of this was easy and none of it was done by herself alone, because whenever it was time to tackle new challenges, her first and last thought was, ‘Let me check with my team,’” Castro notes. “I feel humbled to have learned from and worked alongside Mary. WCER has been lucky to have her talents, her dependability, her care, her hard work, and her willingness to keep learning.”