An illustration of multicolored conversation hearts with the phrases \"be mine\" \"cutie pie,\" \"you rock,\" \"Black & gold,\" \"XOXO\" and an image of a ram on them.
(Nicole Willis, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Ram romances: In their words

At a basketball watch party. Playing quidditch. In the classroom. At a toga party. Happy couples recount how VCU helped fan the flames of love.

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The sparks of love can happen anywhere at any time, sometimes when you least expect them. For the couples below, their romantic relationships took off at Virginia Commonwealth University – sometimes starting in a flash, sometimes with more of a slow smolder. In the vignettes below, happily paired Rams share their VCU love stories in their own words, with humor, wisdom and appreciation for the loves of their lives and the university that helped bring them together.

Jennifer and Dakota Collier

Jennifer: 2011 (College of Humanities and Sciences)

Dakota: 2011 (School of Business)

Our love story began during Homecoming Weekend in February 2008. I was on the VCU dance team, and I went home Friday night to do laundry at my parents’ house – and to not be tempted to go out before game day on Saturday. But my parents persuaded me to go back to my apartment and enjoy college life. Little did I know my future husband would rescue me, with my loads of laundry, on his skateboard. He was cute, but I never expected it to go anywhere. 

On the top is a photo of a man and a woman at a basketball game. On the bottom is an image of the same people but older
Ryan and Jennifer as students, and avid Rams fans, in 2009 (top) and at a January 2024 basketball game (bottom). (courtesy photos)

The next morning, as my dance team girlfriends ventured out to my car to head to the Siegel Center, they noticed a note on my windshield. The boy on the skateboard wrote me a love letter! I will never forget the opening line – “Dear beautiful lady ...” – and I distinctly remember crumpling this letter in a ball and throwing it in the back seat. In my mind, I did not have time to deal with this.

But later, as I’m on the sidelines dancing at the VCU basketball game, I hear yelling from the student section: “Beautiful lady, it is me, Dakota!” After the game, I retrieved that crumpled note. Getting the nerve to message him on Facebook was the best decision of my life!

Upon graduation, we married, Dakota joined the Marine Corps, and we now reside in Orlando, Florida, where we teach together at Windermere Preparatory School. We even have our own little Rowdy Ram (Patrick, 4)! And each year when we travel back to Richmond, we take our annual photo in front of the VCU letters at Shafer Court Dining Center.

Rabia Kamara and Bakari Ruggiero

Rabia: 2010 (School of Business)

A photo of a man standing and a woman holding him from behind.
Bakari and Rabia took engagement photos in front of Brandt and Rhoads halls, where they met in 2007. (Kimie James)

Bakari and I met in spring 2007 in front of the Brandt and Rhoads dorms, where folks would hang out. We had a mutual crush and spent time together before he left for his first semester at Old Dominion University the following fall.

Monroe Park became a place of continuous importance in our relationship, starting with when we would chat there in 2007. We also always stayed in touch via social media, but we wouldn’t connect romantically until November 2019. I was vending in Monroe Park with Vegan Action, and Bakari came to see me, buy some sorbet and helped me pack up my car once the event ended. We became official in 2020, engaged in 2022 – we even took our engagement photos in Monroe Park and in front of Brandt and Rhoads – and we got married this past September 2023.

We often look back and fondly recall that we each met our spouse way back in 2007 without even knowing it!

Christie Roenker Velázquez and Ryan Velázquez

Christie: 2009 (School of Nursing)

Ryan: 2009 (L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs)

Two photos of a couple side by side.
Ryan and Christie cheer on the Rams in 2015 at the fateful VCU-Duke basketball game at Madison Square Garden where they realized they wanted to be more than friends (left), and at a recent VCU basketball game in the Siegel Center (right). (courtesy photos)

My husband and I actually met in high school but did not date at that time. We both credit VCU for being the reason we eventually got married.

Ryan came to VCU a year after I got there. We always stayed friends on campus, hung out a lot and had some attraction to each other, but we still never officially dated. We remained friends for years after graduating – and always shared a love for our Rams men’s basketball team. In 2015, we went together to see VCU play Duke at Madison Square Garden, and that trip really solidified us wanting to be a couple.We were engaged 10 months later and got married eight months after that. We have now been married almost seven years – and have a baby on the way! We live in the Virginia Beach area and are both in public service jobs using the degrees we got from VCU (Ryan’s in law enforcement and mine in nursing). We also own a business together in Norfolk. And we still make it up to see our Rams play every year!

Kimberly and Ryan Knight

Kimberly: 2007 (School of the Arts)

Ryan: 2008 (School of the Arts)

In summer 2004, Ryan and I connected through mutual friends and chatted over instant messenger (Aim!). In the fall, we met up and started off as good friends, hanging out at the Commons Underground shooting pool and bowling. Ryan would even stop by Subway while I was working and walk me home at night.

At the top is a photo of a young man and woman's faces. On the bottom is a photo of the same man and woman, but older, posing with a Rodney the Ram mascot.
Kimberly and Ryan at a John Legend concert during VCU’s 2005 Homecoming (top), and at an alumni event in New York City celebrating the men’s basketball tournament in 2023 (bottom). (courtesy photos)

We were not a couple, but I was curious to know how he felt about me. I would get my girlfriend to try to get details out of him through Aim, but Ryan wouldn’t budge! What friend walks you home from work, brings you soup when you’re sick and Aims you every day with “Good morning, Ms. Fox! I hope you enjoy your day”? 

Fall semester seemed to drag on. I even wore cute outfits around him to see if he would say anything. Silence! I was frustrated, but I didn’t want to ruin the friendship if he wasn’t interested in me.  

The day before winter break, Ryan came over to watch “Shrek 2” with me on my computer. After the movie, I laid it all out for Mr. Knight – like, “We’ve been hanging out for months and you haven’t made a ‘slither’ of a pass at me. What are we?” 

Ryan looked so confused! “I thought it was obvious,” he said. And then he leaned over and kissed me. 

We made it official on Christmas 2004 and dated throughout college. Two decades and two kids later, Ryan and I still attend VCU events, and we are happy to share with our kids how much VCU was – and still is – a part of our lives. 

Corey and Kelly Hence

Corey: 2007 and 2009 (School of Business)

Kelly: 2009 (current College of Health Professions)

On the left is a photo of a man in a button up shirt kissing a woman in a wedding dress surrounded by sparklers. On the right is a photo of the man and woman with a small child and a baby.
Kelly and Corey at their 2015 wedding in The Commons (left) and with their children in 2023 (right). (courtesy photos)

Sparked by shared passions, our journey from VCU students to a blossoming family is nothing short of a slam dunk. It began when we crossed paths in 2013 at a VCU basketball watch party at Baja Bean Co.

As avid season ticket holders, our dating years were filled with cheering on the Rams, traveling to Atlantic 10 Conference tournaments in Brooklyn and savoring the culinary delights of Richmond. When we decided to tie the knot in 2015, the choice of venue was clear – the Commons building, where our VCU journey began. It continued through VCU Reproductive Medicine, which helped us welcome our little champions Ezra (in 2020) and Elias (in 2023).

We live in Chesterfield (Kelly is a nuclear medicine technologist at Southside Medical Center, and Corey works in credit card fraud at Capital One), and we still cherish our VCU season tickets. Ezra enthusiastically shouts, “Let’s go, VCU!” during our trips to the city. It’s a testament to the enduring bonds we forged at VCU.

John Jacoby and Kim Fallon Jacoby

John: 1976 and 1980 (School of Business)

Kim: 1979 (School of Business)

In the fall of 1978, my three college roommates and I went to see “Animal House” at Westhampton Theatre. It inspired us to host our own epic toga party – where I would meet my future wife.

On top is an old photo of a man in a suit and a woman on a wedding dress standing on the beach. On the bottom is a photo of the same couple on a beach but older.
John and Kim on their wedding day in 1979 (top) and on a recent beach trip (bottom). (courtesy photos)

Kim, who was invited by a mutual friend, was accompanied by a date (a VCU instructor). She was absolutely beautiful, and I knew the minute I laid eyes on her that I needed to find a way to get to know her. She approached me – probably because of how I looked in my toga – and asked where the bathroom was. I escorted her there and waited for her.

We began dating shortly after the party, and our second date was the Halloween dance at the Franklin Street gym. Kim was an undergraduate senior, and I was between undergraduate and graduate school. Kim also had been an administrative assistant for Charles Gallagher, a VCU economics professor who remains a good friend today.

Kim and I were married in August 1979, and 45 years, two children and four grandchildren later, I still credit VCU – and a toga party – for letting me meet the kindest, most beautiful woman I have ever known.

And VCU continues to be an important part of our families’ lives. I was honored to be the commencement speaker at our daughter’s graduation from the School of Business in 2005, and I have been fortunate to serve as a board member on several VCU foundations.

Lisa and Jack Harris

Lisa: 1982 (School of the Arts)

Jack: 1982 (School of the Arts)

On the left is an old photo of a man and a woman sitting. The man is embracing the woman from behind. On the left is a photo of an older man and woman standing in front of a Christmas tree. The man has his arm around the woman's shoulder.
Jack and Lisa in spring semester 1981 (left) and on a 2023 vacation to Budapest (right). (courtesy photos)

In January 1981, during our junior year in the VCU School of the Arts, I attended a party at an off-campus apartment hosted by Jack and his roommates. I knew of Jack’s reputation as a highly talented student in the communication arts program, but I had no idea this party would be a pivotal moment in my life. (Thanks to Leigh Ann, my roommate.)

The connection between us was immediate, and to add to the charm, Jack had a puppy named Boz, whom I adored from the start. During the party, Jack intriguingly asked if I wanted to “see his airbrush collection.” That invitation marked the beginning of our beautiful journey together. Just four months later, we were engaged.

Now, 41 years into our marriage, we often reflect on the values VCU instilled in us – creative problem-solving and a passion for fostering imaginative thinking. These values have not only guided us but have also been passed down to our children and now to our 5-year-old grandson, who has developed a keen interest in sculpting. How cool is that?

Martina Hernandez and Nico Ekanem

Martina: 2017 (College of Humanities and Sciences) and 2023 (School of Medicine)

Nico: 2012 (College of Humanities and Sciences), 2015 and 2020 (School of Medicine)

On the left is a photo of two women wearing graduation gowns. On the left is an image of two women wearing formal wear.
Nico and Martina celebrating at commencement in 2023, when Martina earned her Ph.D. (left), and together at the MCV Winter Ball in 2020 (right). (courtesy photos)

We met in Sanger Hall on the MCV Campus in spring 2018 at a review session for Systems Neuroscience. I recognized Nicole (Nico) as another graduate student in the neighboring lab, in the same program I was in. I passed them in the halls frequently, but we shared just the occasional pleasantries.

We later began to have neuroscience conversations after our journal club class. After being invited to join the graduate-student-led neuroscience podcast Crossmodal in May 2019, we became friends. We grew very close and started dating that September – and four years later, in November 2023, Nico and I became engaged!

Victoria and Thomas Raymond

Victoria: 2017 (School of World Studies)

Thomas: 2018 (College of Humanities and Sciences/VCU Life Sciences)

On the left is a photo of a man in a button down shirt kissing a woman wearing a graduation cap and gown on the cheek. On the right is a photo of the man and woman with two small children.
Victoria and Thomas at Victoria’s commencement in 2017 (left) and with their children in a recent family photo (right). (courtesy photos)

My husband and I are freshman sweethearts celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary this February 2024. He is a 2018 dual-degree holder (biology and bioinformatics), and I’m a 2017 graduate (religious studies) – and we met on the quidditch team!

Having grown up just 30 minutes apart, our meeting at VCU and living one dorm floor away from each other seemed like fate. From Johnson Hall in 2014 to present, we have – nine married years later – two kids, a dog and a group of lifelong quidditch friends to show for it. 

Becky and Bryan Leister

Becky: 1985 (School of the Arts)

Bryan: 1985 (School of the Arts)

On the left is a black and white photo of a man and woman looking at each other. On the right is a photo the same mand and woman but older, standing next to eachother.
Becky and Brian in 1994 (left) when VCUarts alum and former VCU professor Richard Robinson took their photo for an article about the couple, and in Japan on a recent study abroad trip that Becky led for University of Colorado Denver (right). (Richard Robinson; courtesy photo)

We met in a sophomore year illustration class 42 years ago, in the early 1980s. We were about 20 years old, and Bryan was a realist painter – and quite good.

One day after pointing to Bryan’s work as a perfect example of realism, the teacher said my assignment fell short and that I had a lot to achieve. Having not met me before that, Bryan disagreed and pointed out in class how my work was great, as it captured the experience of frost on a glass. I took notice and, naturally, we became friends.

We started dating in 1985, just a few months after graduation, and got married in 1987. We had full-time careers in illustration, working for over 20 years. We recently retired from second careers as professors, both of us teaching illustration at the University of Colorado.

Craig and Vivian Shields

Craig: 1992 (School of the Arts)

Vivian: 1990 (School of Business)

On the left is a man sitting behind a woman. On the right is a man and woman in formal wear.
Vivian and Craig early in their relationship (left) and dressed up for a Valentine's Day Gala in 2024 (right). (courtesy photos)

Craig’s take: Vivian and I met at VCU in 1986 and would have a regular encounter in Hibbs Hall. Twice a week we would see each other as I waited for my art history class, and she was heading to one of her classes. I tell people she pursued me heavily as she held my gaze while coming down the long hallway. I wondered what had her so curious, and I thought maybe she liked me. I had eyes for someone else in her class, but I could not help noticing all the attention I was getting from Vivian.

Vivian’s take: Craig would be seated on a bench at the end of a long hallway as I headed to my political science class. He always locked eyes with me and smiled. I thought he was friendly, but I wondered why he would not stop staring at me. I had seen him around campus sporting cool glasses and a gigantic art portfolio case, and he always seemed to be deep in thought. I was curious about him, and we eventually were introduced, at my request, by a mutual friend in September of freshman year as he sat in his dorm room drawing. That sparked a great conversation.

In agreement: We dated all four years at VCU, got married in 1991 and have two adult children. Vivian is chief financial officer for Virginia529, and Craig has a video production company called Nu Era Productions. We thank VCU for bringing us together … and as Vivian grew up in Valentines, a small community in Brunswick County, this love was meant to be.

Jane Dowrick and Michael Whitlow

Jane: 1974 and 1992 (College of Humanities and Sciences)

Michael: 1974 (current Robertson School)

My husband and I, now married for almost 49 years, met in 1971 as undergrads, both working on The Commonwealth Times. We enjoyed a collegial friendship that outlasted other romantic relationships that we had at the time we met.

A photo of a man and woman with white hair sitting next to each other.
A recent photo of Michael and Jane, who have been married for nearly 49 years. (courtesy photo)

Our friendship bloomed into something more in the summer of 1972, when Richmond had been hit by Hurricane Agnes and there were Army water trucks stationed throughout the Fan District. In what seemed like an almost war-torn atmosphere, I remember feeling a sense of urgency. From then on, we were in a committed relationship.

Upon graduation in 1974, we stayed in touch, with Michael in Richmond and me back in Northern Virginia and doing some traveling. By fall of that year, we were back together in Richmond, and in the summer of 1975, we decided we wanted to live together. Michael said his parents would not go for that unless we were married, so we got everything in order to be married that August by a justice of the peace at Old City Hall.

At a reunion in 2019 of CT staff, we learned that we were, as far as we know, the only couple that stayed together from that era.

Michael and I still enjoy our involvement with VCU, with Michael having served as alumni chair and me as a volunteer with Friends of VCU Libraries. We’re also supporting a couple of student scholarships – one in the Robertson School of Media and Culture (Michael earned his degree in mass communications) and another in the Department of English, where I earned my undergraduate and master’s degrees.