For all these years she has been our mainstay,
And she has done it in her lovely, quiet way
So miss her we will, but we know you’re not far away.
We’re happy for you — you can relax every day.
Thank you Paula, for your kindness to us.
That’s it. That’s all. What’s more to discuss?
Meridian International Center Program Officers in the room greeted the farewell couplets with applause and laughter as Paula Manganelli, the guest of honor, sat by smiling. Paula retired last month after over 30 years of experience scheduling arrivals for Meridian’s Professional Exchange Division. In those 30 years, she scheduled over 20,000 visitors and witnessed the broad shifts in international exchange trends.
When Meridian got word from the State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) about an incoming delegation, the power was in Paula’s hands. Paula decided which program went to which Meridian programming team based on her intimate knowledge of the staff members’ individual expertise, interests and working styles. At any given time, she worked with up to 26 program teams, scheduling arrivals using the legendary board (pictured below). It was this ability to juggle record numbers of projects that earned Paula the nickname “the conductor,” Senior Vice President of Meridian’s Professional Exchanges Division (PED) and Paula’s long-time colleague Susan Cabiati said.
“Paula’s retirement is a big loss to all of us,” Cabiati admitted, “I think people felt very comfortable with her—they were able to confide and let her know their preferences, which contributes to our reputation here. She made sure the right people were on the right projects.”
The majority of these projects are single-country projects, but PED also handles regional and multi-regional programs. The largest annual multi-regional project themes evolve according to U.S. national interests. Over the course of her career at Meridian, Paula oversaw the shift from Soviet Union- era Freedom Support Grants to the current emphasis on the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Though programs vary from year to year, Paula identifies human rights and religious tolerance as enduring themes.
“All the programs have impact in different ways- economic, political, legal, educational- they all have a wonderful impact. I think overall, whatever program topic you can think of, just know that Meridian is contributing to all of those to human beings across the world that are involved,” Paula said.
An interest in international affairs and a desire to use that expertise to make an impact initially drew Paula to Meridian. She received a B.A. in History from Emmanuel College, then an M.A. in International Affairs from American University. After completing graduate school and applying to work with Meridian, she explained, the rest is history.
“I never wanted to work on anything else,” she said. “I have always felt lucky to work with the staff. They’re supportive of each other, and they really rally when we need to get work done. It’s a cooperative, not a competitive environment because everyone wants to make sure that the visitors get the best possible programs.”
With over ten years of experience in PED, Paula’s successor Becca Durbin is easing the transition with innovations for the elaborate scheduling board and the occasional piece of advice from Paula herself. Meticulously organized stacks of file folders and color-coded cards fill her office—a tribute to the administrative talent it takes to perform the job.
But after decades of experience and networking, Paula also knew how to bridge the bureaucratic gaps. Despite last-minute schedule changes or requests for special projects from the State Department, Paula had a knack for resolving all the program details in advance.
“Paula knew everyone’s peculiarities. Our world is very much driven by our personal relationships with people,” Cabiati said. Administrative prowess aside, Paula’s personal relationships with Meridian’s staff are what the Center will miss the most.