Although it may sound trite, outward appearances can be deceiving. For example, Clyde, one of Paula Miebach’s tabby cats, appeared to be a male when the cat and its sister, Bonnie, joined Miebach’s household 16 years ago. Likewise, passersby might be misled by the unassuming exterior of the Building Research Council where Miebach works as a program administrative assistant. “A lot of people used to call us the ‘little house on the prairie’ because we were the only building on this end of campus,” Miebach said. Although Miebach relishes her office’s quiet location on the periphery of campus, she says it is the constant activity and opportunities for learning new things that occur within its walls that have kept her content working for the council for 25 of her 37 years with the university. Away from the office, Miebach enjoys boating on Lake Shelbyville with her husband, Ken, and spoiling Bonnie and Clyde.
What does the Building Research Council do?
We are the research arm of the School of Architecture. We have a total of nine researchers , three support staff and 12 to15 graduate research assistants every year. We used to be our own department and were known as the Small Homes Council/Building Research Council until 1993 when we merged with the School of Architecture. We have about 35 contracts right now for research involving Housing and Urban Development’s healthy homes programs, Native American housing, energy and health issues involving mold, mildew and lead abatement, among other topics.
I put together the budgets and complete the paperwork for the contracts starting at the proposal phase. Once a contract is awarded, every month I create spreadsheets for each researcher that give details on their accounts, such as expenditures and remaining balances. When the contract is completed, I prepare all necessary paperwork/reports to Grants and Contracts in order to close the account. I also prepare the payroll and the appointments for academic professionals and staff that work on a contract basis in the Building Research Council/School of Architecture.
Tell me about your career with the university.
I started here in 1965 as a stenographer at WILL radio. My husband and I got married while I was working there, and when he returned from Vietnam I quit the university to move to Maryland with him. I came back a few months later and worked in the School of Music for 10 years, then came here.
What’s the most demanding part of your job?
Keeping up with the rules and regulations involving grants and contracts. They change a lot because various areas are renegotiated, such as benefits, tuition and fees and overhead rates. There also are different rules for state, federal and private contracts. Then there are rules governing whether projects qualify as gifts or have to be negotiated as contracts.
I think one reason that I’ve been here so long is because I’m still learning new things on a regular basis. It’s not one of those jobs where you feel like a robot: ‘Press 1 for this answer.’ I never get bored. Of course, I also enjoy working with the people here.
After 37 years, are you ready to retire?
I was thinking about retiring this past year and didn’t, but now I believe I am actually ready to go and try something different although I haven’t really decided what that’s going to be. My husband is not interested in retiring, and I need to keep busy. I may come back to the UI to work as extra help. I decided to work one more year to train my replacement so she will be prepared to step in and take over.
I’m ready to have less responsibility and not wake up in the middle of the night worrying that I forgot to do something. I’ve joked that I’d like to get a job where all I would do is stand there and say, ‘Welcome to Wal-mart.’ But I’ll bet there’s a long line of people wanting those jobs!
What are your interests away from work?
Our main hobby is boating. My husband and I just bought a new 34-foot cruiser in May, and we haven’t missed a weekend on the lake yet. The boat has everything we need on it: heat, air conditioning, a microwave, a cook top, coffee maker, two refrigerators and more. We spend nine to 10 days on our boat every summer for vacation. We are definitely not winter people.
We also like auto racing, especially NASCAR, and, of course, Illini basketball and football. In addition, we enjoy getting together with our friends, who are very important to us.