Ben Ball joined the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute in June 2022 as its new Associate Director for Administration.
What is your hometown?
My hometown is Holly, Michigan, which is just outside Flint. I come from a large, working-class family. My father worked in a factory and my mom did part-time jobs (house cleaning, beautician in retirement homes). I played a lot of sports growing up.
What is your educational/professional background?
I graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint in Organizational Behavior, which I would describe as the psychology side of business. I started working with Charles Schwab and that’s where I found my niche. I like working with people on finances. My wife and I moved to Madison during the Great Recession (summer 2008) and a lot of companies weren’t hiring. I looked at the university to see what jobs were available, and I started out as a financial specialist in the Department of Psychology.
What positions have you held at UW-Madison?
I started as a financial specialist in the Department of Psychology in June 2009, where I also became a grants manager and ultimately department administrator. From there, I transitioned to a role as a senior accountant in the College of Letters and Science for about five years. I was on the budget office team and got to strategically work with department chairs to support their fiscal initiatives and ideas. Over the last nine months, I worked with Wisconsin Public Media on their finances.
What attracted you to UW-Madison?
Ultimately, it’s the shared governance piece and the history of public support. It’s an R1 institution and there are a lot of incredible research ideas. It can be a chaotic place, but I like the challenge of helping sift through that chaos to make sense of things. I’ve talked with friends about what it would look like to go back into the financial industry, and ultimately this university and the Wisconsin Idea keep me pulled in.
What attracted you to the Data Science Institute?
I was initially drawn to supporting researchers here on campus and supporting the Wisconsin Idea. The DSI is a large, developing institute on campus, and I liked the idea that it was new-ish. I could see an opportunity to help it grow, with Kyle (Cranmer) as the incoming director.
What are you most looking forward to about working at DSI?
Being part of the growth. Supporting researchers, supporting the director, and helping with both the present and where things are going in the future. You know, I’m not the kind of person who’s out in front of people, inspiring them. I try to do as much as possible on the back end or one-on-one. I try to make connections. I try to make sure things are flowing and processing.
What is your favorite place on campus?
I like Picnic Point and the bike path. I’m a runner and I enjoy running around campus, but I love the Picnic Point area. It’s incredible. We’re so lucky to have it. I don’t see anybody not smiling there.
Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I do feel my work supports the Wisconsin Idea and moves it forward. Providing public access to research, presentations, and discussions—I think this is part of living in Wisconsin and Madison, and it makes it attractive to live here.
What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy running, reading, going to the beach, and traveling. I like being outside. I sail every summer with the Mendota Yacht Club. I’ve always enjoyed being on the water. There is something about the experience of sailing as a team and working together so the boat can top out at six miles per hour. It’s an original form of travel, I guess.