Honors Student Highlight: Nate Berg

| Ian McCormack

Headshot of Nathaniel Berg

Intense, passionate, driven, and innovative. In actively seeking opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed, Nate Berg is leading the charge in using technology to make health care more personable and effective for patients who have chronic and acute illnesses.

Hailing from Fall Creek, Wisconsin, Nate was only a fifteen-minute drive from campus. He took advantage of this proximity and began attending classes at the university during his senior year of high school through High School Youth Options, a program that allows students to get a jump-start on their college career.

In the spring before his freshman year, Nate heard about the Honors Program and inquired about joining on a whim. After being accepted via the holistic review process, Nate began his freshman year as an Honors Student in 2015.

After his first semester in 2015, Nate decided to pursue a major in Health Care Administration and would add a minor in Information Systems the following year. He chose this interdisciplinary combination after learning of the HITECH Act, which has created a booming industry for health care technology.

Nate Berg poses with Senator Kathy Bernier

Nate (left) poses alongside Senator Kathy Bernier (right) at the prestigious "Research in the Rotunda" event. (April 2019).

Passed during the Obama administration, the HITECH Act of 2009 provides incentives for the health care industry to adopt electronic medical records, causing the health care IT industry to rapidly expand. Each year, Nate attended the Fall Career Conference to speak with companies at the forefront of this technological revolution.

Nate found the Honors Program invaluable for balancing coursework with professional opportunities. Through Honors Courses, Nate was able to complete degree requirements and Honors credits at the same time, allowing him to be finished with UWEC Honors' graduation requirements at the end of his junior year.

As a freshman, Nate took an Honors section of Chemistry 115. This offered the same course material as a regular Chemistry class but included free-form labs, in which students were given an objective and expected to use course knowledge to design a way to reach it. Instead of being assigned a series of steps, students were encouraged to think critically and directly apply their own understanding of the course material to succeed. For Chemistry 115 and other similar Honors Electives, Nate found that the extra freedom and responsibility made for a “more rewarding learning experience.”

Experiences in Honors also allowed Nate to integrate his corporate and technical knowledge with critical studies in humanities. In Humanitarianism, an Honors Colloquium course, Nate took a deep dive into the “rhetoric of humanitarianism,” addressing questions like “what are an organization’s goals?” and “what drives them?” These questions are central to Health Care Administration, given the field’s direct impact on the lives of patients.

Nate Berg presents his research with Dr. Jewell, Senator Kathy Bernier, John Bachmeier, and Chancellor Jim.

Nate Berg presents his research with (counterclockwise from left) Dr. Matt Jewell of the Material Science and Engineering Dept., Senator Kathy Bernier, John Bachmeier from UWEC Foundation Community Relations, and UW-Eau Claire's Chancellor, Jim Schmidt.

For a final project in the course, Nate researched the Syrian refugee crisis, and the potential for implementing blockchain technology as a means of tracking refugees’ identification and medical records. This directly combined his major in HCAD and minor in IS with a humanities experience, exemplifying the interdisciplinary core of the Honors experience.

During the start of his sophomore year in the fall of 2016, Nate applied and was hired as a general employee for the Honors Program. As a member of the small team of dedicated, hard-working staff members, Nate “quickly found [his] belonging” working with incoming student data.

As he transitioned into a more data-centric role, Nate gained proficiency in Excel and integrated several techniques and tools from his Information Systems classes to establish and improve the Honors Program’s data practices.

This experience was invaluable in elevating Nate towards his first professional internship opportunity. During the summer of 2017, he took on the role of Information Systems Intern at Green Bay Packaging in Wausau, WI. In this position, Nate saw firsthand the benefits of integrating so-called “best-practices” in the creation of IT systems.

In contributing to the roll-out of new technology, Nate learned that the importance of the individual still matters in large-scale systems: “when they were making a change to the frontline staff workflow… they gathered feedback,” and used a “site-by-site gradual roll-out” to allow for issues to be corrected so that the new technology would function well for employees in a variety of working conditions.

Nate credits the success of the endeavor to this gradual process, outlining that employees “were seeing it as a participative approach.” Despite the process applying across the entirety of Green Bay Packaging, each employee felt empowered to participate in integrating the technology within their typical workflow.

In addition to professional opportunities in Health Care Administration, Nate applied to UW-Eau Claire due to the possibility for undergraduate research: “I got to see that other people were very involved in research. I knew that opportunities would eventually be there, and they were.”

Nate was able to fulfill this goal during his junior year. From fall 2017 to spring 2018, Nate investigated nursing home residents’ perceived quality of life. The project collected data from 46 different nursing homes in the Midwest, using multiple methods of measuring perceived quality of life at all levels of care.  

After surveying residents, caretakers, and administrators, the study concluded that “when it comes down to it, frontline staff are really in tune to what residents feel their quality of life is.” Upper-management positions such as the administrator, social worker, and activities director were considerably less accurate in judging their residents’ quality of life.

nate berg chancellor jim

Nate (right) poses with Chancellor Jim Schmidt (left) at "Research in the Rotunda (April 2019).

After completion of the project in Spring 2018, Nate presented at the American College of Health Care Administrators Annual Convocation (ACHCA) and UW-Eau Claire’s Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (CERCA). His research team was also one of four elite groups from the university who attended the UW System’s Research in the Rotunda event in April this year. At this exclusive showcase, notable projects from each campus branch are displayed within the rotunda of Madison’s Capitol building to ”legislators, state leaders, UW alumni, and other supporters.”

As previously mentioned, all Health Care Administration majors are required to complete an internship in the field. Over 100 sites have partnered with UW-Eau Claire’s Health Care Administration program. Nate applied at three different locations affiliated with Presbyterian Homes and Services and had managed to survive what was “probably the most intimidating interview of my life,” with about nine interviewers attending.

At the end of an intense application process, Nate chose Boutwells Landing for his internship location and started there in the summer of 2018. Nate experienced the scope and scale of the care industry, shadowing positions from throughout the entire staff hierarchy. Nate observed that “nursing facilities are extremely regulated; every site has to accomplish the same thing but approaches to accomplishing tasks can differ.”

In looking back on his experience, Nate is grateful for the personal growth and industry knowledge he has accumulated: “Were there stressful times? Definitely. That’s true for any full-time job. In the end, having that full-time internship and having that in-depth understanding of every department at a nursing facility will put me way ahead.”

With a 2000+ hour internship completed; Nate will be able to get licensed in any state as a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator right after graduation. However, with his additional interest in IT, Nate has a different opportunity in mind.

After applying to Epic Systems, his top choice company, he accepted a position working closely with the adoption of electronic medical record systems. He will be participating in Epic’s push into the continuing care industry, developing the best practices that will guide the roll-out of new, proactive data-gathering systems.

Nate credits his experiences with Honors in crafting a strong foundation of interdisciplinary and professional skills, as well as a strong work ethic. Through experiencing the full spectrum of sciences and humanities, Nate feels confident in entering today’s aggressively interdisciplinary workforce, and is ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.