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Paula Perron, administrative glue and encyclopedia for the Applied Physics Department

L.A. Cicero Paula Perron

Who knew that in the Department of Applied Physics—where highly sophisticated research is conducted on such things as lasers, quantum electronics and semiconductors—that everything is held together by glue? In an administrative sense, Paula Perron does just that.

Since 1971, Perron has welcomed every student into the department and trained every chair. As the department administrator, she runs the graduate program, does the department's finances, organizes faculty meetings, provides input on curriculum, serves as a reference for a vast array of university and department policies, and acts as the administrative liaison to departments and offices all over campus.

Each of the more than 100 students in the program has his or her own administrative issues regarding funding, housing, courses, admissions, deferrals, university deadlines or international visas, "and somehow she keeps it all straight," Noah Helman, who received a doctorate in applied physics last year, wrote in his nomination letter.

"Honestly, how she keeps track of each student remains a bit of a mystery; it seems like an inhumanly difficult task," Helman wrote. "I am not the only person who thinks that the department might fall apart if we didn't have Paula to take care of us."

Kathryn Moler, associate professor of applied physics and physics, echoed that sentiment. "If Paula ever retires, we might as well fold up the department right away because she is, by far, the single most important member of the Applied Physics Department," she wrote in her nomination.

Moler, who chairs the curriculum committee, said Perron sends her a long memo and information to be shared with faculty on teaching preferences—well before course submissions are due to the Stanford Bulletin. Moler said Perron also includes a list of issues that she wants to bring to the department's attention, with the ones requiring a definite response highlighted. "And this is one of only dozens of spheres where she is quietly doing all the work of the department," Moler said.

Perron came to Stanford in October 1971 as secretary of the Applied Physics Department. Before that, she had spent about three years at Harvard University, where she first worked as a receptionist in the office of the Dean of the College, then briefly in financial aid. She was born and raised in Maine and came to California with her husband, Bill, who swapped coasts to pursue a graduate degree at Stanford.

Bill, now an officer in the Office of Research Administration, and Paula have lived in Palo Alto ever since. They have one son, Zachary, who graduated from Stanford and works as a police detective for the city. Over the years, they have all been avid fans of the Stanford football team and the men's and women's basketball teams.

While Amy Blue was still on staff, Perron said she recalled going to meetings that Blue presided over and that drew employees from throughout campus. And what Perron said she remembers most is how Blue inspired staffers to feel enthusiastic about being a part of the university—and an important one, at that. "That we were all here together, to make it all run," Perron said. "I would say she was one of the first great role models for staff people."