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Engineering Love at Duke

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Believe it or not, professors do have lives outside of the classroom. And turns out, sometimes they share them with other professors. Meet Drs. Roger and Kathryn Nightingale, Dean Carmen Rawls and Dr. Wilkins Aquino, and Drs. Neal and Rebecca Simmons. These adorable Pratt faculty couples will be spending this Valentine’s Day with each other.

It’s Valentine’s Day and that can only mean one thing: exchanging cards and roses and gifts and chocolate–unless you’re like the majority of us and don’t have a significant other. If that’s the case, it’s time to avoid any and all couples that you know, at any and all cost.

As I walk around campus and see people holding hands, I’ll probably ask myself, “Is that going to last?” Maybe they’ll break up tomorrow. Or maybe they’ll make it through college. Maybe they’ll end up spending the rest of their lives together–wouldn’t that be cute. But who really knows? I certainly don’t. However, some professors here at Duke might just have the answers us single people need. Meet Drs. Roger and Kathryn Nightingale, Dean Carmen Rawls and Dr. Wilkins Aquino, and Drs. Neal and Rebecca Simmons. You might know them as your professors, but you may not know that they’re married to other Duke faculty.

Drs. Roger and Kathryn Nightingale

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Dr. Roger: Associate Research Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Kathryn: James L. and Elizabeth M. Vincent Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Where they met: Duke University, as undergraduates

Favorite date spots: Bull City Burger, Bull McCabe’s, Pompieri Pizza

Drs. Roger and Kathryn Nightingale may be the most adorable pair of professors here at Duke. They recall meeting each other as Duke undergraduates during Fall Break of 1986 at a beach house–where Mr. Dr. Nightingale taught Mrs. Dr. Nightingale how to windsurf (which they still do avidly). He was a senior and she was a sophomore, which isn’t much of an age gap, but would turn out to be an important factor to keeping them here at Duke.

“I stayed here for graduate school, because Kathy was here. I was going to go to UCSD (University of California and San Diego), but… we started getting serious,” explains Mr. Dr. Nightingale.

After she graduated, Mrs. Dr. Nightingale went to Texas for three years, stationed there with the Army. Once she left the army, she decided to go to graduate school back at Duke, of course, because her future husband was still here. And then when Mr. Dr. Nightingale finished graduate school, he took a job at Duke because Mrs. Dr. Nightingale was still in graduate school, and when she finished graduate school, she–you guessed it– stayed on as faculty here at Duke as well. Because he was here.

“I stayed here for graduate school, because Kathy was here. I was going to go to UCSD (University of California and San Diego), but… we started getting serious” 

“We were never able to quite get away from Duke,” he says.

“Which has been great! Duke has been great to us,” she adds.

When asked about their favorite date spot in Durham, they reminisced about Parker’s Barbecue, a now-closed restaurant downtown, and Satisfaction, or “Sats”. Sats used to sponsor Mr. Dr. Nightingale’s softball team in graduate school, and would provide free pizza and beer if the team won…or lost. They still go to Satisfaction sometimes for a sentimental throwback, but seem to have adapted to Durham’s transformation into a foodie city.

“There are so many new restaurants in Durham that it feels like we’re always trying new ones,” says Mrs. Dr. Nightingale. “We go all over. We have a 16-year-old son now, and we have an eating out night once a week and rotate who gets to pick the restaurant.”

Sometimes, balancing family and work can be tricky, especially since both Drs. Nightingale travel a lot. However, both professors being part of the BME department definitely has its advantages–their offices are actually just a few doors down from each other. It’s very easy for Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Nightingale to coordinate meeting times and schedules, which was especially important when their son was younger and they had to take care of him more. Furthermore, they give each other advice on lectures and other aspects of their work as well.

“I helped Kathy a lot with grants early in her career, since I had more experience at the time. But now she has more experience with that,” shares Mr. Dr. Nightingale.

Though Mrs. Dr. Nightingale may have more experience writing grants, she admits that Mr. Dr. Nightingale kept up with “texting lingo” more than she did in the early days of texting. She remembers being very perplexed by a student’s shorthand in a text message once, and having to go to Mr. Dr. Nightingale for his interpretation. Nowadays, though, she swears she’s better with the ins-and-outs of texting. (It also helps that their son is a teenager, too.)

She remembers being very perplexed by a student’s shorthand in a text message once, and having to go to Mr. Dr. Nightingale for his interpretation.

Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Nightingale are really appreciative of Duke and all that it has offered. Not only is the flexibility a huge benefit, but the convenience of having their health care, gym, and workplace all at the same institution is a major advantage.

“It’s a really idyllic place to work. If you’re going to work as hard as we do, I can’t imagine a better environment.”

 

What relationship advice do Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Nightingale have for undergraduates?

Always be open and communicate with your significant other. Honesty and openness are crucial in a relationship.

But Mr. Dr. Nightingale concedes that, “We’ve had pretty much one serious relationship, so we have pretty limited experience to draw from.”

Maybe the key is to find someone to teach you how to windsurf.

 

Dean Carmen Rawls and Dr. Wilkins Aquino

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Dean Carmen: Assistant Dean for Advising & Outreach

Dr. Wilkins: Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Where they met: University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign, as graduate students

Favorite date spots: Juju’s, Gocciolina

Though Dean Rawls and Dr. Aquino didn’t meet at Duke, their story still revolves around academia. After Dr. Aquino received his Ph.D. from UIUC (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), the couple married and moved to Cornell, where Dr. Aquino accepted a faculty position, Dean Rawls completed her Ph.D there, and they had two kids. Then came the move to Duke, which was not simple by any means. The two not only had to think about both of their careers, but also their new family. They were looking for somewhere where everyone would be happy.

Dr. Aquino had his faculty position at Duke first, and Dean Rawls started out in a research position temporarily. While Dr. Aquino’s role was pretty defined, Dean Rawls was looking for a more permanent position. Then, a few years ago, Dean Rawls’ current position opened up, which she was excited to apply for due her enjoyment of working with undergraduate students.

“We’ve been lucky twice that all the elements have fit and we both have been able to continue our developments and find a place that we enjoy,” says Dean Rawls.

While it is fantastic that Dean Rawls and Dr. Aquino enjoy Duke, it seems like they have never had trouble enjoying each others company. They, too, emphasized that the flexibility offered in academia has very much helped them manage their relationship and family. Back at UIUC, they worked in the same building, and at Cornell, their offices were right across from each other. Though right now, Dean Rawls’ office is in Teer and Dr. Aquino’s office is in Hudson Hall, when they first came to Duke, Dean Rawls also worked in Hudson. As a result, it has always been easy for the couple to find time for each other.

Dr. Aquino shares that, “We’ve been eating lunch together basically every day for the past 17 years. And that tells you we love each other a lot!”

I can’t even imagine eating lunch with the same person every day for a month, nevermind almost two decades. Talk about relationship goals.

Dean Rawls and Dr. Aquino believe that the university environment is very conducive to relationships partially due to the scheduling flexibility, but also due to the social aspect of academia. Contrary to stereotypes, research is a very social environment. Everybody is very invested in their research and wants to share their work, so it is very easy to communicate and meet others. They also share that in the beginning of their relationship, they would help each other with classwork–another benefit of the academic setting.

“We’ve been eating lunch together basically every day for the past 17 years. And that tells you we love each other a lot!”

As a dean and a professor, their relationship provides some unique dynamics compared to that of the Drs. Nightingale. Dean Rawls explains that as a wife of a faculty member, a lot of her friends are also faculty here. And when she became a dean, whenever her friends would need advice regarding a student, they would consult her for help. Additionally, Dean Rawls has referred students interested in research to her friends’ labs, and also to her husband as well.

“It’s definitely a benefit to students, too, because she has some unique insight into the skills of faculty here because we are married and in this environment all the time,” shares Dr. Aquino.

Dean Rawls has referred students interested in research to her friends’ labs, and also to her husband as well.

One amusing aspect of their relationship is the phone call etiquette between the two. When Dean Rawls and Dr. Aquino talk to or call each other, they normally speak in Spanish. But sometimes, when Dr. Aquino is meeting with a student and needs to call his wife with a question, he speaks in English.

“It’s a very professional call when that happens,” says Dean Rawls.

“A very awkward call,” Dr. Aquino adds.

 

And what is their relationship advice for students?

Be friends first.

“It sounds awkward, but it feels more natural. We felt comfortable with each other because were friends first.”

 

Drs. Neal and Rebecca Simmons

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Dr. Neal: Gendell Family Associate Professor of the Practice

Dr. Rebecca: Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Material Science

Where they met: Duke University, as graduate students

Favorite date spot: Third floor of Hudson Hall, Duke Gardens

Drs. Neal and Rebecca Simmons met as mechanical engineering graduate students at Duke, married after one year of dating, and have stayed here ever since. It may seem odd that their favorite date spot was Hudson Hall, but it’s because they worked together all the time, so they saw each other every day.

“We do very well working together. A lot of our work is parallel and interconnected, which is very nice,” shares Mrs. Dr. Simmons.

As with the other two couples, “date nights” nowadays are more about family and the kids. The Drs. Simmons’ have two young daughters, and every now and then will play Colorku–a version of Sudoku played with colors–as a family. They’ll also go on vacations, to the movies, ice skating, and the like.

“We do very well working together. A lot of our work is parallel and interconnected, which is very nice

Part of the reason why Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Simmons decided to stay at Duke after graduate school was because of their daughters. They thought that the Triangle environment in general was a very good place to start a family and to raise kids. It didn’t hurt that they both loved Duke as well and really enjoyed the intersection between a small metropolitan area and the open land nearby.

Besides the location, working at Duke has other benefits for the Simmons’ as well. Not only do they get to see each other all the time, but they both understand each other’s experiences as professors as well. Yet sometimes, that can be a challenge too.

“Sometimes you experience the same things, and don’t always agree on how things should be done,” explains Mr. Dr. Simmons.

“But that leads to happy debates,” Mrs. Dr. Simmons says.

Not only do they get to see each other all the time, but they both understand each other’s experiences as professors as well.

Another facet of being professors not only at the same school, but also in the same department, is that many times they will teach the same students. Mrs. Dr. Simmons is an EGR103 professor, which is required for all Pratt students, and Mr. Dr. Simmons often teaches upper level mechanical engineering classes. The two co-teach a class, EGR121, as well.  They’ll share helpful hints with each other on how some students learn best, or how to explain topics in a specific way to make it clearer to others.

Turns out they were always trying to give each other helpful hints, even when the first met in graduate school. Back in the day, whenever they worked together, they would try to help each other out with their experiment’s and classwork. Mrs. Dr. Simmons recalls them using X-Ray diffraction one night, and her future husband warning her against pressing a specific button.

“I wasn’t used to someone trying to help me so much. So I hit exactly what I wasn’t supposed to. And then we spent the next five hours trying to fix the machine until 7 am.”

No one panic, they fixed the machine.

Perhaps an even more humorous moment in their relationship was when Mrs. Dr. Simmons was on maternity leave with their second daughter. Mr. Dr. Simmons filled in to teach his wife’s EGR103 section, full of first-years, at the beginning of the semester–and didn’t tell the students he was subbing for his wife. Naturally, none of the students actually knew that their professor was supposed to be Dr. Rebecca Simmons, not Dr. Neal Simmons. So for one group of freshmen, they didn’t realize there were two Dr. Simmons’ for the first month of class.

“I wasn’t used to someone trying to help me so much. So I hit exactly what I wasn’t supposed to. And then we spent the next five hours trying to fix the machine until 7 am.”

Although most Pratt students now know that there are two Dr. Simmons’, we still struggle with what to call them.

“Students also have a hard time figuring out how to address us. Especially if a student is talking to me about the other Dr. Simmons,” says Mr. Dr. Simmons.

(And if you can’t tell, I’m struggling with the same thing in this article.)

 

And what is their relationship advice for students?

Find someone compatible in worth ethic. Especially in engineering, where a lot of people are dedicated to their work.

“We really value hard work. We love our work and we love our family. So that’s our relationship: working together and being with our family. And playing Colorku.”


Although the three couples all have different stories, they all exemplify the dedication and happiness required in a successful relationship. Some people want to find someone who looks at them the way Vice President Biden looks at President Obama? No way. I want to find someone who looks at me the way these professors look at each other, because it’s a thousand times better. So if you’re feeling lonely or desperate or spiteful about Valentine’s Day, just think about these professors. Because maybe true love does exist.

 

Writer: Brian Chan

Editors: Vivian Zhang and Emilie Padgett

Photos by: Brian Chan

Web: Brian Jiang

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