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Lessons in love: Bowdoin staff “meet-cutes”

February 9, 2024

Courtesy of Allison Cooper
BETTER TOGETHER: From Peru to right here in Brunswick, each of these faculty couples have found their way into each other's hearts from a range of shared experiences at the beginning of their love story. Years later, these couples reflect on how those "meet-cutes" sparked their long-lasting relationships and eventually partnerships in the work environment. All living close to campus, these couples center their family and professional life around Bowdoin.

Students often have trouble imagining their teachers outside of the classroom: Do they sleep in the stacks or in their offices? Do they write research papers and lab reports in their spare time? Not always. But for many Bowdoin professors, their work is more connected to their home life than one might expect.

Bowdoin is filled with professor couples. Some moved to Brunswick together with a job offer for just one of them, some were hired jointly through Bowdoin’s Shared Appointments policy. Others met once they arrived. In Orient tradition and with Valentine’s Day approaching, we delved into the origin stories, or “meet-cutes,” of four of these couples.

In May 2022, the College revised its Shared Appointments policy, terminating the option to apply for tenure-track positions with a partner or spouse. Some of the stories below predated this policy, others are a result of it and others came about outside of the policy’s hiring practice. Nonetheless, the nature and number of future faculty couples may change as a result.

Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Carolyn Wolfenzon Niego and Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Gustavo Faverón Patriau: 

In the jungle of Peru, Wolfenzon Niego met a tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed man named Gustavo Faverón—but this person was not the man who later became her husband. Instead, she met the real Faverón at a job interview for with a Peruvian news organization.

“I told him about this man, the other Gustavo Faverón Patriau. The real Gustavo had been trying to find out who was charging bills on his name at South American bars, restaurants and hotels,” Wolfenzon Niego said. “Anyway, he laughed about finally discovering who was passing by as him. And it was someone he knew! We started dating days later and soon fell in love. I was hired as a reporter for the newspaper, ‘El Comercio.’ Gustavo was the director of the Saturday magazine.”

However, they originally kept their relationship a secret from their colleagues because Faverón Patriau was Wolfenzon Niego’s boss. After years of working together as journalists, the developing political landscape in Peru made them reconsider their career paths.

“There was a dictatorship. The Free Press was not so free. It was becoming difficult to report…. It felt like it was not a safe space to be a journalist,” Wolfenzon Niego said. “In that moment, I was told that coming to the United States as a student with a scholarship was a possibility.”

“Journalists were targeted by the government, particularly people like us who were outspokenly in the opposition, and there were only two national news organizations that openly opposed the government, so we were very visible in the most uncomfortable way. The funny thing is that [the dictatorship] fell because of news published by the magazine where we worked,” Faverón Patriau wrote in an email to the Orient.

The two left the country in 2000 after learning about the possibility of pursuing a graduate degree in the United States. Wolfenzon Niego received a scholarship to the University of Colorado Boulder while Faverón Patriau began a program at Cornell University, forcing the couple to enter a long-distance relationship for two years until Wolfenzon Niego moved to Ithaca N.Y. as well to complete her doctoral degree.

“Maybe you’ll find another couple that has had a similar trajectory, but it’s very unlikely that you find someone who has worked as a journalist with their future husband or wife and then they go to grad school together, share the same room and later become professors at the same college.” Wolfenzon Niego said.

Faverón Patriau received a position at Bowdoin while Wolfenzon Niego finished her dissertation and worked as an instructor at Colby College. After she obtained her PhD, Wolfenzon Niego applied for a job at Bowdoin, but it took her some time to become an assistant professor in a small department.

“It’s much harder to find a position for two people that have almost the same profile, even though we’re very different,” Wolfenzon Niego said. “I have been an instructor. I have been a spouse. I’ve been a lecturer. We shared a position that was almost invented for us, a 1.5 position, so we had like a salary and a half. Then I was an assistant professor and an associate. So I have been in all the research and all the jobs.”

Despite sharing the same careers, both acknowledged that they have found their own niches in the Romance Languages and Literatures department, between Wolfenzon’s interests in Mexico, nonfiction and academic writing, and Faverón’s specialization in political fiction, the Southern Cone and creative writing.

“We have lived different lives but almost always in the same spaces,” Wolfenzon Niego said.

“Not almost—our offices are now twenty steps apart. That’s probably the farthest away we have been from each other in the last 20 years,” Faverón Patriau added.

Gustavo Faverón Patriau is currently on leave for the 2023-24 academic year.

Courtesy of Gustavo Faverón Patriau
PROFESSING LOVE: Wolfenzon Niego and Faverón Patriau have spent most of their careers working side by side, connecting their professional and personal lives.

Associate Professor of English Aaron Kitch and Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Cinema Studies Allison Cooper:

While Wolfenzon Niego and Faverón Patriau’s relationship spanned continents, Kitch and Cooper’s love story has always been centered around Bowdoin. Although both grew up on the West Coast, they met after they moved to Maine to accept teaching positions in 2002.

When Kitch’s previous relationship ended in 2005, Professor of Art History Pamela Fletcher suggested that he go on a date with Cooper, who worked at Colby at the time.

“It’s a long story, but [Fletcher’s] sister is married to my brother. That’s how she knew me…. I accepted my first job at Colby because I had been to Maine before to see my brother get married to Pamela Fletcher’s sister,” Cooper said.

While Cooper was house-sitting in Colorado, she and Kitch instantly bonded over their conversations on the phone.

“I fell in love with her through her voice and her conversation skills, which to this day are unsurpassed,” Kitch said. “Then when I got to meet her a few months later … I got to see that there was more than just the voice.”

They hiked at Dodge Point in Newcastle for their first date, and three years later Kitch proposed to Cooper at that very spot where it all began.

Soon after their marriage, Cooper learned that they were expecting twins, and she decided she wanted to take a job at Bowdoin.

“At the time Bowdoin had this amazing partner accommodation program so you could apply for a job for your partner to teach at the institution if they taught in a field that Bowdoin felt needed more faculty or if it was a good fit for the institution,” Cooper said. “So I left my tenure track job at Colby for a job that was created for me at Bowdoin, which is why maybe we have so many faculty couples.”

Since then, Kitch and Cooper have situated their family around Bowdoin, even living within walking distance to campus.

“It’s wonderful to have kids grow up going into Bowdoin’s campus, learning to ride their bikes on Bowdoin’s campus, being able to walk across the street and just hang out with the college students or go to the museums and all the programming that Bowdoin does. It’s a complete privilege to be able to have that for our kids,” Kitch said.

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies Jill Pearlman and Barry N. Wish Professor of Government and Social Studies Paul Franco:

When her husband, Professor of Government and Social Studies Paul Franco, got a tenure-track job in Brunswick, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies Jill Pearlman “came unhappily.”

Now, Pearlman and Franco have called Brunswick home for over 30 years.

“All I would say is, it’s been a great life,” Pearlman said.

Franco and Pearlman’s love story took shape in the library at the University of Chicago, “as all good Chicago graduate students do,” after waving to each other for almost two years.

When Franco got a job at Bowdoin, Pearlman followed, and the pair, their baby and her dissertation came to Brunswick. Despite predating the spousal hiring policy, Pearlman was hopeful she would land a job.

“There was nobody working in my field [or] teaching in my field here. So we thought, well, that’s probably a good thing,” Pearlman said.

Still, Pearlman was not met with a friendly reception when the pair first arrived at Bowdoin.

“In fact, I did not get a warm greeting from the department to which I would have belonged or to which I got my degree. [They felt] kind of like ‘you chose your husband to follow your husband,’” she said.

Despite the cold welcome to Brunswick, Pearlman was ultimately offered a more fixed appointment at the College, not on tenure track, that could be renewed every five years. When the couple first came to Maine, their deal was they would leave in three years if she was not offered a job. Instead, the couple has been here ever since, raising kids—and campus-famous dogs—on Bowdoin’s campus.

“Our kids really grew up on campus. Bowdoin students were always their babysitters. They loved it, it was a great place to grow up and be so close to campus for the kids,” Pearlman said. “Not only do we love the jobs, but living so close to campus is great.”

Being so intertwined with campus life, Bowdoin sometimes takes center-stage in their relationship.

“Amazingly we have shared many students over the years, even though we do very different things,” she said. “It’s amazing how many students we actually have in common despite that we have very different fields.”

Pearlman shared her enthusiasm for the connection between the campus, her family and her work.

“I can’t imagine [Bowdoin] doesn’t come up in some way at every meal,” Pearlman said.

Courtesy of Jill Pearlman
ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Pearlman and Franco have lived and taught together in Brunswick for the last 30 years and hope for many more.

Administrative Assistant Karla Nerdahl and Senior Lecturer in Classics Michael Nerdahl:

For Karla and Michael Nerdahl, it all started at a birthday celebration in a park in Madison, Wisconsin. In between relationships, Karla was searching for a boyfriend, but struck out with each guy she met through dating platforms.

“I was having a hard time finding a suitable person at the time,” Karla Nerdahl said. “This is like before internet dating or any apps like that. Instead, there was the system where you would—it was through your telephone, not smartphones—leave a message about yourself, and this [was] free for women, but men would have to pay to leave a message for you.”

Yet, she couldn’t find a spark with anyone—until she met Michael Nerdahl at her friend’s birthday.

“It turns out it’s a joint birthday party between two people who are celebrating their birthday—and one of them was my husband Mike. And when I saw him right away, I was like ‘This is such a cute guy. Oh my God, I hope he doesn’t have a girlfriend,’” Karla Nerdahl said.

The Nerdahls recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and 25 years together.

Throughout their relationship, Karla Nerdahl pursued various career paths in each of the locations where they lived. In Madison, she worked at  a  landscape architecture firm for 10 years, but when her husband received a job at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro following his doctoral degree, she shifted to work in the education department. Moving to Brunswick, then Virginia, and then back to Brunswick, she found a breadth of opportunities that fit her interests with each move.

When the couple finally settled in Brunswick after Michael Nerdahl received a more permanent job as an assistant professor, Karla Nerdahl knew she wanted to work at Bowdoin and eventually found her current job in the Student Activities Office, where she adores her daily work with students.

“I’m really hopeful that we can both retire from Bowdoin because we love it here. We own a house that’s like walking distance to the college,” Karla Nerdahl said. “I have a beautiful life, and I will say that having a really well-suited partner to you makes your whole life better. Not just your romance life: Everything is better because of my relationship.”

Michael Nerdahl is currently on leave for the 2023-24 academic year.

Courtesy of Karla Nerdahl
BE MINE: Karla and Michael Nerdahl have grown together through the different phases of their diverse careers.


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