Our love is like dividing by zero… you cannot define it.

For more than 30 years, the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy has been awarding degrees, launching careers and even sparking lifelong romantic relationships. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, a few of Harris’s favorite alumni couples shared details of their love stories and updates on their shared lives since graduation.  Some of these couples arrived at Harris together, only to grow more in love during the years they spent holed up at Harris and exploring Hyde Park; others met crossing paths in shared classes or school activities, and they’ve been together ever since. All have gone on to apply their educations in policy, leaving their own mark on the world, hand in hand.  

“Japan’s First Couple of Finance”

Hirofumi “Hiro” Takinami MPP'98 and Shiori “Jo” Takinami MPP'98
At the House on the Rock in Wisconsin.

As classmates at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy from September 1996 to June 1998, the Takinamis attended several classes together — Statistics, Microeconomics, and more — but their first real date was at the Shedd Aquarium.

The aquarium was the first of many Chicago institutions that became go-to date spots for the couple during their time attending Harris Public Policy together and living in the city. The couple would often visit Frank Lloyd Wright sites in Oak Park, including his studio and several of the houses he designed. They watched Chicago Bulls games at Hiro’s place during the last few seasons of Michael Jordan’s golden era. Their favorite restaurant was Piccolo Mondo in the Windermere House on 56thStreet in Hyde Park, an Italian restaurant that they still make sure to visit on trips back to Chicago – the most recent was during the summer of 2017 with their two children. Their son was 13 at the time — his second time on campus after first visiting with his parents as a wide-eyed five-year-old in 2009 — and their daughter was six. 

Jo said she could tell from her son’s reaction to visiting a second time that he could appreciate Harris in a new way as a teenager; he understood that you had to work hard to be admitted, and even harder once you started classes. 

“I also explained to him how hard my husband and I, with our classmates, had to work for our assignments and exams,” Jo said. 

And that hard work paid off for the Takinamis, who married in Tokyo four years after graduating together from Harris. 

Before running for the seat he holds today in Japan’s House of Councillors (the Japanese equivalent of the U.S. Senate), Hiro was an official at the country’s Ministry of Finance. At the Budget Bureau, Hiro was in charge of reforming the Special Accounts of the Japanese Government, a task he said he was well prepared for due in part to the knowledge he obtained studying for the US Certified Public Accountant exam alongside Jo, who was preparing for her career in professional personal finance management. 

The Takanamis at convocation.

“When [Jo] decided to take [the CPA] exams, I thought it might help deepen my understanding in accounting and financial analysis as well, so I decided to study with her,” Hiro said. “Studying during the breaks during work was never easy, but we both successfully passed the exam and obtained the certification a couple of years later. A deep understanding of financial statements…was very helpful in the public policy making.”

Hiro’s approach to his work in turn influenced Jo’s professional perspective as well.

“At some point, [my husband’s] approach would help me to take a step back and think, ‘Perhaps instead of promoting the investment trusts to the (specifically targeted) customers, the company should put more efforts in providing financial education to the general public first.’”

“Honeymooners at Harris”

Christian “Chris” Norton MPP’13 and Carolina “Caro” Garayzar MPP’13
Chris and Caro

Three weeks before starting classes at Harris together, Chris and Caro got married, “making our two years at grad school our super long honeymoon,” said Chris. 

“Harris means so much for our love story.”

The decision to move to Chicago and attend Harris together happened in a rush; while working for the Mexican government as an advisor to the Ministry of the Economy, Caro was offered a scholarship for graduate school. She applied to three or four universities and convinced Chris to do the same.  He was an advisor in Communications and Transportation Ministry at the time. 

“We didn't know if the scholarship was going to be there still,” Caro said. “We applied in a rush. We both did and we got accepted at the University of Chicago…He got the same scholarship as I did. It was hard for me to convince him to apply. He wanted to wait another year. He feels he got the same scholarship as I did because we both were working in the Mexican government.”

The couple first started dating when Caro was 21 and Chris was 24. Then they took a break for a few years and ended up getting back together three years later. And two years after that, they were newlyweds at Harris.

“It was a great experience, because we did a huge transition from not living together or anything, to spending 95 percent of our time together,” said Chris. “The first semester we took the same classes, so it was quite intensive in terms of time spending together. But we got to know each other really well and although we fought, it was great — like marriage boot camp."

It helped that Chris and Caro had a similar background — both of them are economists who attended the same university in Mexico for undergraduate school — and therefore a shared, common base of knowledge and understanding with which to build off of throughout their education.

Some advice from Chris and Caro: "Have fun!"

“It was very good and interesting for us to discuss classes,” Caro said.  “It's not like you're talking to someone who doesn't know what you're talking about. We used to study together and divide forces. I used to make the [study guides] for, I don't know, statistics, and Chris used to study something different. I used to explain everything to him, and he used to explain everything to me, too.”

And amidst all of the studying, the couple hosted a lot of dance parties in the Hyde Park apartment they purchased in the midst of the housing crisis in 2011. After graduating in 2013, Chris and Caro moved back to Mexico, where they both began working for the Mexican government. Today, Chris works for the Mexican Telecom Regulator, and Caro just started working at Facebook. They still maintain their Chicago apartment and rent it out to students from Mexico attending Harris. 

They travel to Chicago with their two sons, now three-and-a-half and two years old, for two weeks each summer.

They recommend that other blooming couples at Harris try not to see each other as the competition. 

“You both are talented, and you are smart in different ways,” Caro said. “So if you try to compete, I think it will harm your relationship.”

“You are not competing against your partner, but with yourself,” echoed Chris. 

“Have fun.”

“Young (Policy) Love“

Charles “Charlie” Parekh MPP’00 and Shana Whitehead MPP ’00
Convocation, a shared experience.

A year after graduating together from Harris, Charlie Parekh and Shana Whitehead were married at the University of Chicago’s Bond Chapel. It was July 21, 2001, and with the temperature hovering right above 90 degrees, the day made history as the hottest 21st of July in recorded history. 

“None of us really understood what that meant,” Shana said. “We're starting to now.”

Shana, who is currently the Chief of Business Systems for the Illinois Tollway, has always had an interest in environmental activism.

She first met Charlie during an environmental leadership camp put on for high school students in the Kansas City region, where they both grew up. 

 “I was 15 and he was 16,” Shana said. “He had a drivers license, and I did not. That was very motivating for me, he could pick me up. We've been together ever since.”

Despite going to different high schools and colleges, the couple stayed together. Knowing they both wanted to get public policy degrees, they began looking at different programs together just a year out of undergraduate school. 

“[The University of Chicago] was a good fit that we both got into,” Charlie said. “I didn't have as many options as Shana did. It turned out to be just a good fit, in general, for us.” 

Charlie and Shana at an important campus institution: The Pub.

Shana said both she and Charlie were attracted to the fact that the University of Chicago allowed for cross registration with other departments “without any fanfare.”

“You didn't have to apply, you didn't have to beg,” Shana remembers. “You just needed to put your name on a sign-up list for class. If there was room, they'd let you in. At the time, I was really interested in sociology as a possible PhD route, and Charlie was really interested in economics as a possible PhD route. We both took advantage of this amazing aspect to Harris, and the University of Chicago, at the time.” 

Now working in very different fields, Shana at the Illinois Tollway, where she is working on implementing new technology, and Charlie at Duff & Phelps, where he is a director in the Disputes and Investigations practice— the couple still finds common ground thanks to their shared background in public policy from Harris. 

“In terms of jobs themselves, Shana's been very much been public sector focused her whole career,” Charlie said. “My clients are almost always private sector clients, [but] that being said, from a functional standpoint, I think we both work on many similar issues about the analysis of a policy, [which] has been a constant in both of what we do professionally.”

“I do think that we both have a social science mind, and that has definitely been a point of connection from the time we met,” Shana added. 

They believe their son, six and a half, is a social scientist in the making as well, who like his parents, is showing an interest in the realm of policy at an early age. 

“His ability to perceive and take interest in social patterns and human incentives, is unique for his age,” Shana said. 

“Study Buddies”

“We met during orientation at Harris Math Camp in 2010 and started dating a quarter later in 2011. An unlikely pair, we credit our friends and all the study time spent on the core curriculum for bringing us together. Having met at Harris and married almost 5 years later, we value our experience growing and learning together at the University of Chicago.”

Christy Serrano MPP’12 and Matt Smith MPP/MBA’13

“For both Jose (Chilean) and I (Colombian), coming to Harris to pursue our MPPs was a dream come true. Little did we know that we would also find each other during such an incredible experience. Chicago and Harris have a very dear place in our hearts and we remember our years there as a time full of beloved friends, admired and supporting faculty, and hard, non-stop problem sets and exams! Those are among the best two years of our lives. After Harris, Jose and I got married, started our PhDs and had a baby! So, Harris not only gave us the best tools for our professional careers, it also gave us our new life.”

Rosa Castro-Zarzur MPP’14 and Jose Eguiguren-Cosmelli MPP’15

“Chicago was actually our first home as newlyweds. We started our application process as a couple, but we were not engaged yet. The co-location problem was tough; we came up with this point system where each of us, individually, had to rank their preferences according to 5 or 6 attributes. Then we compared ranks and came up with a final list of schools to apply—no surprises here -- after such a data driven approach, Harris was our top choice. Luckily we both got accepted and got married before attending school. We remember our time at Harris with great joy: a two-year honeymoon in one of the most beautiful cities and in the best Public Policy school in the world.”

Ana Aguilera MPP’13 and Daniel Pereira MPP’13 

“Harris Love Around the World”

“We met during Harris orientation in 2009 after being assigned to the same scavenger hunt team. It was serendipitous - Zhu was thrown in with Mahanta, Mata, Mitchell, and Morris, because there weren't enough last names at the end of the alphabet to form another team. To us, Harris means lifelong friendships. Since graduating, we have traveled to Wisconsin, China, Australia, and places in between with Harris friends from the entering class of 2009.”

Terri Zhu MPP’11 and John Mitchell MPP/MA ’12

“In 2015, we came to Chicago to start our Master's program. Our first connection was the Harris coed soccer team (which, by the way, won the ‘ship in 2017!). One day, we went out with our friends, first to Follies and after that to a Latino bar. From that day, we started our relationship, which included amazing Harris trips to Israel and Costa Rica. We got married in April 2017 in a small town in Mexico. The best part was that most of our Harris friends flew to Mexico from all around the world to celebrate with us! Harris has a special place in our hearts because it brought us together and it gave us life-lasting friends and great memories!

Hannah Bent MSESP'17 and Aldo Belmont MPP’17