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Diane Manzella to Receive Distinguished Alumni Award

April 7, 2014

Our alumni keep bridges strong between the students' academic experiences and the professions they'll enter when they graduate. Diane Manzella graduated from CSUN in 1972 and, with fellow alum Julie O. Gardner ('67), established Gardner Manzella, Inc., one of the first private speech pathology clinics in the US. Their innovative practice grew to employ 350 people.

Today, Diane is a member of the CSUN President's Associates and is an active member of the College of Health and Human Development Dean's Circle, helping to secure resources and engage alumni and industry professionals with the College. On April 26th, Manzella will be among four alumni honored at the CSUN Distinguished Alumni Awards event.

diane manzella
Diane Manzella, EdD, SLP

 

A pioneer in the field of Speech Language Pathology, Manzella and her business partner, Julie O. Gardner, developed a reputation for implementing the most up-to-date research into innovative therapy techniques.  They quickly became known for their ability to help patients get to a high level of function that would allow them to live more independent lives.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Manzella married her high-school sweetheart in 1963.  While managing a family, she became a speech pathologist and audiologist, starting as a school therapist in Prince Georges County, Maryland where she piloted a program to mainstream children with significant hearing loss into the classroom.  This was 1965, and it was the first program of its kind. The program still exists today.

The family came to California in the late 1960’s, and Manzella worked as an audiologist at Glendale Adventist Hospital while earning her Master’s Degree at CSUN (then, San Fernando Valley State College).  Philip Reid, Chair of the academic department (then Speech, now Communication Disorders and Sciences), asked her to teach at the college and help him develop the audiology major upon her completion of the program.  The audiology major was established during her tenure from 1972-76.  She also met a new friend and her future colleague while in the program, Julie O. Gardner.

The two shared a desire to help children with speech and language disorders, and in 1980, while writing her doctoral dissertation at UCLA, they started a company focused on treating children.  As they worked from their small office in Northridge, they saw a need that had not yet been met in the community: bringing treatment to children in the classroom environment in private schools. 

As the business grew and more funding was needed, they found it difficult to get banks to invest in two women starting a growing business, so, Manzella made the difficult decision to leave the practice temporarily.  She took a position with a growing national corporation, InSpeech, Inc., and was named Regional Director of Speech Services for California.  The year and a half in the corporate world was profitable, but she missed working in the private practice with Gardner, so they applied themselves anew, adding acute rehabilitation hospitals and nursing homes to their clients lists.

Manzella believed they could compete successfully with national companies, and the experience confirmed their belief that therapy companies should always look to positive outcomes as measures of success, not profit.  They named their company Gardner Manzella, Inc.  Customer referral was excellent.  The therapy outcomes sold themselves, and the company grew to provide services in 12 states with over 350 employees. The only problem they faced was how to keep finding enough qualified therapists to keep the company growing with the demand.

They knew where to look for employees.  One of the most positive venues for hiring speech-language pathologists was CSUN.  Time after time, they discovered CSUN was turning out the best and brightest in the country.  Known as pioneers in the field who had developed a reputation for implementing recent research into innovative therapy techniques, they easily attracted graduates.  Bringing their patients to their highest level function was their goal. An added plus was that hospital administrators told them they saved Medicare dollars.

In the midst of the growth spurt, corporations approached to purchase the company.  InSpeech, Inc., (now NovaCare Inc.) made a pitch to buy Gardner Manzella but the team passed on the offer, as they did with other companies as well.  Two women doing well in a corporate world, thoroughly enjoying their work with a desire to keep their independence, kept moving forward.

Manzella says what brought her back to CSUN was Gardner’s untimely death in 2011.  She established the Dr. Julie O. Gardner Language Speech and Hearing Center Fund in Communication Disorders and Sciences to continue Gardner’s legacy.

Now retired, Manzella and her husband are spending time with their children and grandchildren, whether cruising the coast in their boat, skiing in Germany, or sharing her time and talents with us at CSUN.  We are grateful to have her involvement with us, and happy to honor her for the Distinguished Alumni Award this year.

More than 400 guests are expected at the event to honor the Manzella and fellow awardees: international marketing executive Bill Imada, chairman of IW Group; and Philip and Gayle Tauber, founders of the international food company Kashi. The four will be recognized for contributions to their respective fields at a special dinner on Saturday, April 26, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. The evening will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the dinner and awards program at 7:30 p.m.

We hope you can join us. To learn more, read the article in CSUN Today.