"Jay's depth of knowledge and strategic thinking have been invaluable," says A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., president of DePaul University. "When I joined DePaul last July, Jay shared her retirement plans with me, and I recognized right away I had a small window to learn from her vast experience with the university community. I will forever be grateful for her leadership and friendship."
A lot has changed in the president's office since Braatz joined DePaul in 2004 as a senior executive for presidential operations. She was the first hire for the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., who served as DePaul's 11th president from 2004 - 2017 and is currently the university's chancellor.
"I remember recruiting Jay at a Starbucks near her office at the Spencer Foundation in Chicago," Fr. Holtschneider says. "In 2004, when we both arrived, the DePaul president's office literally consisted of a part-time student answering phones."
Braatz spent her first several months at DePaul building a president's office. She visited other universities to study their presidential operations and modified those practices to best fit DePaul. One-by-one she hired a team and implemented procedures to ensure day-to-day operations ran smoothly and effectively.
"If people do not think about the functioning of the president's office, it's because she made it seamless," Fr. Holtschneider says.
Braatz first met Fr. Holtschneider through mutual friends at Harvard University, where she earned a master's degree and doctorate in administration, planning and social policy at the Graduate School of Education. Her dissertation focused on the role of education on women's success in the labor market. She also helped teach classes in advanced statistics at Harvard, an area of expertise that led directly to her primary function at DePaul - strategic planning.
Fr. Holtschneider first charged Braatz with aligning DePaul's strategic reporting and data-gathering. Building a planning function for the university came next. Braatz supported the implementation of Vision 2012 and then led the process to develop Visions 2018 and, most recently, 2024.
"Those processes became better informed as she quietly shared data and trends with individuals and working groups tasked with achieving strategic objectives," Fr. Holtschneider says. "Our ability to execute - actually accomplish - those plans also increased, as she and her team tracked our plans and saw that each item was accomplished, celebrated and credit was given to the university members who worked hard to bring that accomplishment to life. Perhaps most usefully, her unseen but critical skills in shuttle diplomacy helped an institution with competing ambitions agree on a direction forward."
Braatz also made it a priority to provide regular, annual updates throughout each strategic plan to keep the university community informed. Instead of waiting for the end of each six-year cycle to address new challenges, Braatz facilitated conversations at the halfway mark to evaluate progress and make necessary adjustments. Her goal: keep the university moving forward.
"It has been an honor to spend my first year at DePaul with Jay as my guide," Dr. Esteban says. "Watching her lead and collaborate with the university community to develop DePaul's next strategic plan has been a great learning experience, and I feel fortunate to have served alongside her. Jo and I wish her the happiest of retirements and remind her that she and Eric will always be welcome at DePaul."
Prior to joining DePaul, Braatz served as a senior program officer at the Spencer Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has provided more than $250 million in fellowships and research grants to improve education around the world. She spent 15 years working for Outward Bound, a national non-profit educational organization that offers wilderness-based, experiential education programs to help students develop personally and professionally. She currently serves as a board member for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Rockland, Maine. She also rows competitively with the Chicago Rowing Foundation.
Upon retirement, she will relocate, over time, to mid-coast Maine, where she and her partner, Eric, have been renovating a home for the last several years.
"Truthfully, Jay could have worked anywhere," Fr. Holtschneider says. "It's a testament to our mission - in which she believes deeply - and to our community that she has stayed all these years. Her retirement is a loss, and yet it deserves only gratitude."