Some homemade tacos, a great (or possibly terrible) documentary, rigorous analysis, and a whole lot of love – what else can we ask for?

Math Camp wasn’t going to be a white-knuckle experience for Sarah Emmons, MPP’14. She loves math — she even taught it before arriving at the Harris School of Public Policy in 2012. Math Camp was going to be fun, she thought.

To her surprise, Math Camp was also going to teach her about chemistry. Personal chemistry.

Math Camp — the three-week immersion into algebra, applied mathematics, and calculus that prepares students for Harris’ challenging Core Curriculum — is where Emmons noticed classmate Jeremy Klavans, MS-ESP’14. He was enjoying Math Camp, even smiling as he worked with  other students. Emmons was intrigued, she said, “staring at him from across the room.” She had to get to know “that guy who was having a great time.”

Nearly nine years later, Emmons, 33, and Klavans, 31, are in love, working in education and on climate change respectively, and navigating the upside-down COVID-19 world from South Miami. The wedding they had planned for April 25, 2020, had to be postponed because of the pandemic. When it’s safe, they say, they will get their planned beach wedding, complete with frosty drinks and guests in “tropical cocktail attire.”

It will be quite unlike a scene in Chicago, where, after their Math Camp encounter, Emmons and Klavans started spending time together as friends. The first year at Harris, Emmons said, was like freshman year of college all over again, meaning a lot of group activities.

A few months later, Emmons and Klavans started to split off from the larger group, exploring the city and the university, even taking the Carillon Tower Tour at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Klavans hadn’t noticed Emmons’ staring at him in Math Camp. “I think I’m pretty notorious for being oblivious,” he said. But eventually it was clear they were more than friends. He asked her out, to a nature documentary, a film that Emmons recalls as “really boring” and Klavans insists “was really well done.”

They went on to study together, read each other’s papers, and help each other with coursework in their first year at Harris, during which they took most of the same classes. The second year, Klavans had more science classes in the University’s Department of Geophysical Sciences while Emmons did more education and other policy coursework. “It was nice to do a year together and then have a year apart,” Emmons said.

After Harris the couple stayed in Chicago for a year, moving into a tiny Wicker Park apartment. Emmons continued her work at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, where she’d started while at Harris. But Klavans, a Maryland native, never got used to the Chicago weather. “He was always so cold,” Emmons said. He came up with a plan: He would get his Ph.D. at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He loved Emmons, would she go to Miami too?

Emmons wasn’t sure. She had a great job in a great city near all of her friends from Harris. Finally, she gave in. “I ended up choosing love,” she said.

The couple got engaged in April 2019.

The couple got engaged in April 2019. To celebrate, Klavans, the family cook, made tacos, which was the first meal he’d made for Emmons all those years ago in his Hyde Park apartment.

They bought a home, which they share with French bulldog Lucy and cats Elliott and Mia. Emmons is executive director at Achieve Miami, an education nonprofit that provides meaningful educational programs — music, college readiness, literacy, and more — to students throughout Miami-Dade County. Klavans has completed his Ph.D. and is working remotely as a climate scientist for the University of Colorado.

“As you can imagine,” Klavans said, “Miami’s a hotspot in my field.” It’s a place, he said, where he can see the real-life implications of his work and the city is home to a policy ecosystem that cares about that work.

Harris, he said, “definitely propelled me into the kind of career trajectory that I’m on now,” a mix of environmental policy and quantitative science.

For Emmons, who grew up in Massachusetts and was working in Colorado before moving to Chicago, Harris provided a way to differentiate herself from her education policy peers.

“Harris teaches you how to think differently, how to look at problems differently, how to analyze solutions differently, in a way that I think has really catalyzed me to be an effective leader in my nonprofit world,” she said.

The happy couple by the beach.

The problem-solving skillset is coming in handy for Emmons and Klavans in their pandemic-rocked personal lives as well. Emmons was actually on her bachelorette-party cruise in the Bahamas during the weekend last March when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its advisory that cruises were a very bad idea. Later that month the couple knew they had to delay their wedding.

“One of our reflections was that, yes, we had to postpone our wedding, but we’re not canceling it,” she said. “We’ll still get a wedding.

“I think especially working in education, I was watching students not being able to go to graduation. You’re never going to get that back. Prom, you’re never going to be able to get that back. But Jeremy’s not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. We still love each other. The event itself is just on pause for now.”

And when it does happen, their classmates from Harris will be there to toast the couple whose love affair began at Math Camp.

“One of the things about Harris that we both appreciated most was the people that you meet there,” Emmons said. “Those are our best friends.”