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Campus & Community

5 Totally Turtle-y Love Stories

On Valentine’s Day, UMD Faculty and Staff Couples Shell Out Perks of Working Together

By Karen Shih ’09

five Polaroid-style photos of couples around the M, with red heart drawings

Terp faculty and staff couple share the best (and worst) parts of working on the same campus, from commuting together to collaborating on research.

Collage by Stephanie S. Cordle; photos courtesy of the couples

Some days, it’s as simple as a walk over to Trader Joe’s to grab some flowers and lunch. Or a morning latte at Vigilante Coffee. Or staying late to cheer on the Terps baseball team together.

A date can be anything when you both work at the University of Maryland. It’s one of the many advantages of partnering with a fellow faculty or staff member, along with shared holiday breaks and having a built-in carpool buddy.

This Valentine’s Day, Maryland Today put out the call for campus couples and received an overwhelming response. Whether they co-author research papers or rarely cross paths once they get to College Park, five Terp twosomes share their favorite parts of having the same employer, how burst pipes and intertwined research can sometimes cause strife, and stories of Valentine’s celebrations and mishaps.

Charlene Prosser Castillo, Carlos Castillo and their three kids with Testudo

Charlene Prosser Castillo, senior graphic designer, Office of Marketing and Communications
Carlos Castillo ’08, technical coordinator, Office of the Controller

How they met: As members of the Filipino Cultural Association at their respective colleges—Charlene at George Mason and Carlos at UMD—when the clubs did an inter-school mixer.

The best part of both working at UMD: “We don’t have to worry about coordinating holidays or vacation days, since we know we have the same leave,” said Carlos.

Homecoming and Maryland Day are family traditions. “We always try to find Testudo to get a photo and dip the kids’ feet in the fountain,” said Charlene. The Dairy is a favorite spot, since Charlene used to work in the Stamp Student Union. “The staff there has seen (6-year-old) Ruby grow up,” she said. “It’s really nice to have that familiarity.”

The toughest part: Pre-COVID and pre-kids, they carpooled, but now they stagger their workdays (and work from home days) to juggle school and daycare drop-offs and pickups.

How their work lives intersect: “Sometimes I pretend he’s my Uber Eats driver—he’ll bring me lunch if he knows I haven’t eaten yet,” Charlene said.

Favorite date spots: Vigilante Coffee; Taqueria Los Primos food truck at the Xtra Fuel gas station; IKEA (they love it so much they even took engagement photos there). Old Town Alexandria, where they got married, for a staycation. “It would be harder to find time together if we didn’t work on campus because three is a lot of kids!” said Charlene.

Best Valentine’s Day story: Carlos surprised Charlene with tickets to “Spring Awakening” because he heard her listening to the soundtrack. “He thought it was a beautiful coming-of-age love story, but it actually deals with pretty dark issues.” By intermission, Carlos realized his mistake. “I have to do more research!”

Pratyush Tiwary and Megan Newcombe with dog at beach

Pratyush Tiwary, Millard and Lee Alexander Professor in Chemical Physics
Megan Newcombe, assistant professor of geology

How they met: As grad students at Caltech. They then overcame multiple long-distance stints while one or the other lived in California, New York, Maryland and even Switzerland.

The best part of both working at UMD: Being in the same place for good. “Many academic couples have to decide between science and their personal lives,” he said. They’ve settled in, recently buying a home in Berwyn, benefitting from the College Park City-University Partnership Homeownership Program, and inviting students over for Thanksgiving and to hang out with their rescue dog, Pakora (the biophysics program’s unofficial mascot).

How their work lives intersect: “We have one common thread: thermodynamics,” said Newcombe. In her case, her focus is on volcanoes and why they erupt in different ways, while Tiwary studies how proteins in the human body behave and misbehave, with possible applications for understanding disease. “It’s the same process at a smaller scale,” he said.

Favorite date spots: The Quantum Café at the Physical Sciences Complex (“Bring back the chocolate puddings!” said Newcombe); The Board and Brew; Tacos a la Madre; Jewel of India in Hillandale.

Best Valentine’s Day story: Ten years ago, Tiwary flew halfway around the world to be with Newcombe for Valentine’s Day. But he was so jetlagged when he got to California that they couldn’t do much. Still, the gesture meant a lot. “He did the lion’s share of the traveling while we were long-distance,” Newcombe said.

Tanner Kilpatrick and Patrick Williams with dog in front of Christmas tree

Tanner Kilpatrick, assistant clinical professor and director of graduate studies, Department of Family Science
Patrick Williams, executive director of development, University Relations

How they met: At St. John A.M.E, a predominantly Black church just outside of Texas A&M University, where Kilpatrick was one of the few white members. One of their first dates in 2014 was to the NCAA Super Regional baseball tournament. “Turns out Tanner wasn’t into baseball then,” said Williams. “It could have tanked our relationship!”

The best part of both working at UMD: “As an intergenerational, interracial, same-sex couple, UMD’s messages about everybody having a place and value is lived out in true time here,” said Williams.

The toughest part: “When the semester is going, it’s very busy,” said Kilpatrick, making it tough for them to find time together, and they rarely commute together because of their differing schedules.

How their work lives intersect: Williams briefly filled in as the chief development officer for the School of Public Health, giving him a chance to work in the same building as Kilpatrick once a week. They also enjoy attending “events here we would never see in Texas,” such as a Q&A with journalist and founder of the 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Favorite date spots: Sweetgreen for a crispy rice bowl; Querétaro in Crofton, Md., when they miss Tex-Mex; Proper 21, an upscale sports bar, in Washington, D.C. (The Texas A&M alums cheer for the Aggies and the Dallas Cowboys, but have become huge Terps fans and enjoy Nationals and Orioles games as well.)

William Ming Liu and Rossina Zamora Liu

William Ming Liu M.A. ’95, Ph.D. ’00, professor and department chair, counseling psychology
Rossina Zamora Liu ’98, assistant professor, urban education

How they met: Advocating for the Asian American Studies Program at UMD in the 1990s, when Will was a doctoral student and Rossina an undergrad. After finishing their degrees, they moved to California, then Iowa, where they lived for 18 years.

The best part of both working at UMD: Introducing their daughter, Bella Rose, to their alma mater. The 16-year-old shares her parents’ passion for social and racial justice, and has attended many events, including a conference and last year’s affirmative action rally. “We’ll be very fortunate if she ends up at Maryland,” said Rossina.

The toughest part: A psychologist by training, Will has long had to keep certain matters confidential, a practice he continues as department chair, since they both work in the College of Education. For Rossina, the more junior faculty member, it’s ensuring that she is recognized independently for her work. And keeping cool heads when writing a paper together: “We’re both strong-minded people!”

How their work lives intersect: As Asian Americans working on issues of race and racism, white supremacy, anti-Blackness and cross-racial solidarity, the two forged a natural work connection while they were faculty members at the University of Iowa. Now, in their sixth year at UMD, they’ve continued to research and publish together. “It’s not easy work,” said Rossina. “But because of the environment and social and institutional support here, it allows us to do this work as well as we can.”

Favorite date spots: Northwest Chinese for spicy noodles; Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville; Kusshi Sushi and Hwa Gae Jang Tuh in Rockville for no-frills Korean barbecue.

Best Valentine’s Day story: Feb. 14 is Will’s birthday, so for one of their first dates, Rossina was racing to pick him up for a date when she hit a pothole. “He ended up having to change my tire, so we were late to his surprise party!”

Emily and Manuel Nunez pose by Christmas tree

Emily Nunez, science writer and media coordinator, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
Manuel Nunez ’14, building operations manager, School of Public Policy

How they met: As COVID sent the world into lockdown in March 2020, Emily “liked” Manuel on Hinge (“I commented on his cute cat, which did the trick, I guess!”), which led to 10 phone and video dates before they met in person.

The best part of both working at UMD: “We have a shared understanding of each other’s day-to-day lives,” said Manuel. “We’ve been to each other’s offices and met each other’s bosses and coworkers.” And they can both get their steps in by heading to lunch at Trader Joe’s, or checking out the new Shop Made in Maryland, where they picked up artwork for their apartment in Silver Spring.

The toughest part: Since they commute together, “she supports me by coming in painfully early for her,” said Manuel, sometimes at 7 a.m. when he needs to be on-site for a building issue. And if a pipe bursts or a copier malfunctions, she keeps a book handy so he can stay late and handle emergencies.

Favorite date spots: The movie buffs are fans of Alamo Draft House (“Poor Things” was their favorite movie last year); weekly trivia at Silver Branch Brewing Company; Donut Run in Takoma Park; or the Farmers Market and Science on Tap events at UMD.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.