For Valentine’s Day Barrett alumni couples share how the honors college brought them together

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February 12, 2021

With Valentine’s Day coming up on Sunday, we decided to check in with alumni who found their significant others at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. 

They share how they met, their favorite Barrett memories, what they’re doing now, and their advice for other young couples.

, Class of 2015

Nate and Sheridan Chaisson

Nate and Sheridan Chaisson, Class of 2015

How did you two meet?

We met in The Human Event freshman year. Nate asked Sheridan to partner with him for an in class activity. The relationship grew from there!

Tell us one or two of your favorite Barrett memories.

The Barrett Polytechnic Halloween parties are some of our fondest memories. Everyone gets together and has fun making costumes and dancing in the Union Ballroom. Riding the bus to the main campus or to the Barrett retreat with the whole group was also always very fun. 

Where are you two now? What is life like?

We currently live in southeast Michigan (Detroit). Nate works for General Motors and Sheridan teaches 4th grade. We love to have friends over to play Dungeons and Dragons or take the sports car to the racetrack for a track day. Our life is currently very dog centric as we take care of our two “fur babies.” Our first non-fur baby is expected in April. Yay!

What advice do you have for young couples?

From Nate: Don’t be afraid of commitment. Communicate your feelings even when it is uncomfortable. Place high value on the other people who are important to your partner.

From Sheridan: Step outside of your comfort zone (I am very introverted and was uncomfortable around new people) and don’t be afraid to communicate what you need.

Emma Walls, Class of 2017 and Peter Reniewicki, Class of 2018

Emma and Peter at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon from a past camping trip.

Emma Walls, Class of 2017 and Peter Reniewicki, Class of 2018

How did you two meet?

Peter and I met in August of 2012, when we showed up to a Barrett Mentoring Program event hosted at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. We were assigned to a group of incoming students who were all majoring in biology/chemistry/physics, and we later bumped into each other around the Barrett dining hall, where we would often sit and talk together over lunch. Both our majors later changed, but we've been together ever since!

Tell us one or two of your favorite Barrett memories.

We both spent several years working as Barrett Community Assistants, so of course some of our favorite Barrett memories include taking our residents on light rail trips to First Fridays in Downtown Phoenix. We also loved grabbing a fresh copy of the New York Times to do the crossword together in the Burning B coffee shop in the afternoons.

Where are you two now? What is life like?

We are both now residing in the Phoenix area, after having spent the past few years up in Oregon together while I completed my Masters in Nonprofit Management. Peter and I are currently surviving the pandemic by going on new hikes and exploring other safe outdoor options while the weather is still nice. Outside of work, we both continue to volunteer virtually with national organizations (Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Conference for Peter, Sigma Kappa Sorority for Emma) in various capacities to stay connected to the causes we care about.

What advice do you have for young couples?

Our advice for young couples is to find both common and different interests from each other! Our relationship has remained strong and just as fun as when we first met because we always have something new to talk about or introduce to each other, while also catching up about the interests we already share. Our time at Barrett taught us to be curious and explore new ideas, and we use that advice to keep our connection strong too.

Bryan and Ella when they first started dating back in 2016 at the West campus (left). Bryan and Ella in January (right).

Ella Burrus, Class of 2017 and Bryan Sawkins, Class of 2018

How did you two meet?

Like all good things, our relationship started through Barrett! Well, it was actually through a mutual friend, who was also a Barrett, The Honors College student. In the fall semester of 2015, Ella took a special topics Barrett course: Utopia/ Dystopia, SciFi and Media with Prof. Lerman at the West campus (West is best!). During that particular class, Prof. Lerman showed some video work by students from one of his other courses. It was a funny little video featuring one of Ella’s Barrett friends, Cathy, and a charming fellow by the name of Bryan Sawkins as her partner. Fast forward to winter break. In deciding which classes to enroll in for the spring semester, Ella wanted to take more classes with Prof. Lerman, but also with that Bryan whom she had not yet met in person! Ella decided to reach out to Bryan over Facebook and ask if he was taking any other classes with Prof. Lerman, or any other Barrett classes in general. Unfortunately, Bryan and Ella would not have any classes together that coming semester, however, the two did set a date to meet on campus once Bryan returned from his family visit back home in California. Ella decided to make things fun by having Bryan “come find her'' somewhere on the West campus (which, if you have not been to the West campus, it really is not that big, so this was not much of a challenge!). Eventually, Bryan gave up and Ella revealed where she was and the two met at a Starbucks table outside of Fletcher Library. Over the winter break, Ella began the new practice of her “napkin art,” where she drew and colored on napkins at any establishment she went to. Ella had been telling Bryan about her new venture, so decided to bring her collection of napkin art to show him. Whether it was the hide and go seek game or the drawing on napkins that hooked Bryan, we cannot be certain, but what is certain, is that Bryan embraces Ella’s quirks just as much as Ella helps bring out the quirks in Bryan and the two have been inseparable ever since!

What is one of your favorite Barrett memories?

One of Ella and Bryan’s favorite shared Barrett memories comes from a time when the two got the chance to share a class together. In the fall 2016 semester, Ella and Bryan both took a special topics class with Barrett West Associate Dean Ramsey Eric Ramsey titled, Philosophy of the Psyche. One afternoon, while the couple was walking together to class, just a few feet outside of the classroom door, inching its way across the pavement, was a huge colorful caterpillar! Now, Ella admittedly really does not like caterpillars, especially the giant ones with little hairs all over them! And so, Ella gave out a shriek! As the two entered the classroom, Ella was hoping the other classmates had not heard her pathetic scream. From then on, the two made it a practice to draw caterpillars in each other's notes during that particular class. 

Where are Ella and Bryan at now?

Ella and Bryan are very grateful for the lives they live together. The two currently share an apartment together near Central Phoenix, along with their fluffy orange cat Tarot. Ella is pursuing a Masters in Social Justice and Human Rights from the ASU West campus and is projected to graduate this December. Ella serves in a graduate role as assistant to the Director of the Social Justice and Human Rights program and also remains active in the Barrett alumni community. Bryan is putting his double major in applied math and applied computing to good use as he continues in his second year as a Tier II Application Specialist for Republic Services. Bryan also is working on building his portfolio by developing his own video game and hopes to enter into a graduate program specializing in game development in the near future. Ella and Bryan are fortunate enough to be able to visit Bryan’s family regularly in California and the two enjoy having Ella’s family over on a weekly basis for family nights. The two will lovingly celebrate their fifth year together this February, always looking back at their early days in Barrett, and at the same time, looking forward to all of the wonderful opportunities to come in the future!

What advice do you have for young couples?

Ella’s response: Well, I still think of myself and Bryan as a young couple, since we are only 26 and 24 years old! But with what, in my opinion, is a limited amount of experience, I would advise “young” couples to simply enjoy where they are at in the here and now. Couples at any stage of their relationship should embrace what is happening right now! Acknowledge all of the good things that come your way as they happen in the moment instead of looking back later and wishing you would have been more appreciative of them when they happened in the past. Perhaps you miss some element of your past that is no longer in your life, but life keeps moving forward, and who knows? Maybe the future has even better things waiting for you!

Bryan’s response: What Ella said.

Alex Thiel and Bethany Thielen

Alex Thiel and Bethany Thielen, Class of 2018

Alex Thiel and Bethany Thielen, Class of 2018

How did you two meet?

We met on the bus to Barrett Camp, the week before freshman year started. We didn’t start dating until the end of sophomore year, when we went to a school dance together in the Phoenix Art Museum.

Tell us one or two of your favorite Barrett memories?

Alex: The free movies with popcorn were always a blast. In a geeky way, I have fond memories of the intense Human Event tribunals.
Bethany: The events with the therapy pups were always my favorite! It’s a tie between those and the yearly Barrett kayaking trips to Saguaro Lake. 

Where are you two now? What is life like?

First and foremost, we adopted an adorable cat named Mango.

We’re living together in the San Francisco Bay Area. We got engaged in October of 2020, making it officially not a terrible year! We’re both working tech jobs at local startups. We actually moved out here with several friends from ASU who were also in Barrett! 

What advice do you have for young couples?

Given our long track record of zero years of marriage… We’ll get back to you in a few years on that!

You know all the cheesy stuff people say works for relationships? Communication? Respect? Yeah, that does work.

Responses compiled by Christien Crynes, Barrett, The Honors College assistant development officer.

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