WisPolitics.com is profiling some of the newly announced state agency heads. The latest installment features Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim.

Crim, who came to Madison in the mid-90s, most recently worked as the assistant state superintendent for the Division of Student and School Success at the Department of Public Instruction. She previously worked at UW System in a variety of capacities.

Birthplace, age?
Originally from Philadelphia, 51 years old. Moved to Wisconsin in 1996.

Job history?
Most recently served as the Department of Public Instruction’s assistant state superintendent for the Division of Student and School Success, a position she held for some 18 months. She also served in various capacities at UW-Madison, as well as business development manager for UW-Extension’s UW-Learning Innovations program. When she first came to Madison, she worked as an assistant coach with the UW-Madison women’s basketball team.

Received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in rhetoric and communications, before attending Penn State University for her master’s in education. She’s currently working on her doctorate at UW-Madison in educational leadership, a program she started three years ago.

Grew up in a family of six, including three brothers. Met her husband at Penn State while she was pursuing her master’s degree. They have two children, a son and a daughter. Her son is 19 and is a budding professional dancer in San Francisco, while her daughter is 16 and a junior at Madison West High School.

Favorite non-work interests?
Loves traveling, sports and riding her bike. Also enjoys playing Bid Whist, a card game similar to Euchre, with a card group dating back 20 years.

Why the interest in being in the Evers administration?
“I had a wonderful opportunity to work for state Superintendent Evers at the Department of Public Instruction, and I found his leadership style to be very inclusive. He’s very authentic, high integrity, and he really is interested in problem-solving but not alone, actually having his staff provide input to help problem solve. You know, no one person has all the answers, and so I really enjoyed his inclusive nature of problem-solving. The other thing is in terms of connecting the dots, he really sees that problem-solving approach is not just with your staff, but it’s also stakeholders; it’s also the citizens of Wisconsin. It’s, ‘What type of input can we have to actually come up with the best solution?’ And so what I like about that is he’s asked all of the secretaries to see how we might work across agencies to problem solve. And so as you know, he’s coined 2019 as the (Year of Clean Drinking Water). Well we have water, we do waste management here. And so we’re talking with the DNR as well as DATCP and DHS on how we can work together on problem-solving to ensure the drinking water is what it needs to be for the citizens. So I really had just been inspired by how he does his work, how he includes people in doing the work and his authenticity.

What are your priorities for the agency under your leadership?
Well, it’s funny. Many people don’t realize that we’re a new agency. We are 8 years old. We were born out of the union of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Regulation and Licensing. And so people will often say DSPS, but nobody knows what that means. So I really am very clear to say the Department of Safety and Professional Services. I spell it out as often as I can because the work we do is in our name. And so it was important that people realize that. And with being a new agency, part of our goal is really needing to modernize the infrastructure. And what I mean by that is we had an antiquated system, somewhat electronic at the Department of Commerce doing building inspections. And a lot of our trades also work with a system that really needed to be modernized from regulation and licensing that focuses on over 245 occupational licenses. Well, with the birth of our agency, it also brought together those two systems, both needing to be modernized. So we are looking at modernizing the technology. But it’s not just about the technology; it’s also about the processes that go with those technology advances. So it’s process improvement, modernization. And as we’re doing that, stabilizing the workforce, that starting to do the work jointly, not as two individual agencies. So really a true meshing and intertwining of the two agencies to actually make a whole agency. So there, that’s where a big part of our focus has been. And then of course protection is in our name with safety. So really ensuring that we ensure that the citizens of Wisconsin remain safe under our licenses and under our processes, and inspections and things.

What should the agency be doing differently?
I think really it’s understanding and talking with people about what’s needed. When you think about modernizations, sometimes there’s licenses that no longer have the shelf life that they once did. There’s tweaks, there’s adjustments, there’s small changes that may need to be made. Being open to the input and knowing where that push and pull is in terms of what’s needed for these times.

What’s the best advice you’ve received since getting the job?
I would say really listening to people and taking the information and the inputs that we’re given to actually then go and do the good work … There are many people who have been here for 30-plus years that have grown with one agency or the other, Commerce or Regulation and Licensing and really hearing the changes that they have seen over time. What inputs do they have? You know, I’m really new to it. So it’s building on those who have experience, either utilizing the license or building from an external standpoint, or those who have the experience in supporting what our constituents need from inside the agency. And so coming into this role, I was able to make several hires, and four of those hires are people who had been already working in the agency in a variety of capacities, moving them into a leadership role because again, they have the expertise. I’m able to do the work, because I’m informed by that information.

Worst advice?
You know, when you come into something that’s new, there’s never really any bad advice. It’s advice that you need right now, advice that you might draw back on at another time. But right now it’s important to hear all voices, to really understand how to do this work that really speaks to a variety of people. When you think about our state, 72 counties, people do things differently in different places. How homebuilders are needing licenses and advice in Chippewa valley or Eau Claire maybe different than Waukesha. So it’s, you never know when that advice is going to come that’s needed for what area. So it’s important to have your listening ears open for everything.

See past WisPolitics.com interviews and videos with other cabinet secretaries:

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