They’re the closest thing to celebrity couples Cal Poly has: married professors.
Most Cal Poly students have probably had a class with one or two at some point in their college career. They’re in the middle of a lecture, expounding on the values of Kant’s categorical imperative, when they casually mention, “In fact, my spouse teaches an entire class on (fill in the blank).”
For married faculty and staff, working is more than just planning courses and lectures. Their home lives are almost inseparable from their work, and they learn to balance both while still putting students first.
10,000 days: Debra Valencia-Laver and Gary Laver
Associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts Debra Valencia-Laver and psychology and child development department chair Gary Laver have been married nearly 27 years. They met during their first year in graduate school in 1984, and Valencia-Laver said she knew right away that Laver was special.
They were attending a meet-and-greet for accepted graduate students at Claremont Graduate University, when Valencia-Laver saw Laver from across the room.
“I said to myself, ‘If he’s here next fall, that’s the man I’m going to marry,’” Valencia-Laver said.
As it turns out, Laver was there the next fall, and that following Valentine’s Day, Valencia-Laver sent him a valentine. They had their first date four days after that, and exactly six months later, they were married in Las Vegas.
When the couple graduated, they sent résumés to as many universities as possible before Valencia-Laver got a tenure track offer in the psychology and child development department from Cal Poly. The couple decided to take the offer because of the location, the reputation and the school’s promise to help Laver get lecture work.
Eventually, after working as a lecturer for seven years, a tenure track position opened up in the psychology and child development department, and Laver got the position, assuring the couple’s future at Cal Poly.
But even when Valencia-Laver was still teaching in the psychology and child development department, they worked to establish separate identities, Laver said.
“We had a good reputation within the department for drawing a line and not getting involved in the promotion or tenure affairs of other people,” Laver said.
The couple has now worked at Cal Poly for almost 21 years, and in the future, they’re hoping to work together, now that their own professional integrity is established, Laver said.
They’ve talked about doing research together on cognitive aging — a common interest — Valencia-Laver said. But they still have plenty of time, with at least 15 years left at Cal Poly, she said.
Both are very conscious of how far they’ve come, though, Laver said.
Several weeks ago, the couple was watching “500 Days of Summer” together when they began to wonder how long they had been together. They did the math, and discovered that 10 days before their 27th wedding anniversary, they will hit a benchmark, Laver said.
“We’re coming up on 10,000 days in August,” Laver said.
Teaching together: Nancy and Erik Cullins
Some instructors can’t establish entirely separate identities, as was the case with graphic communication lecturers Nancy and Erik Cullins. Though Erik is now working in San Francisco, up until last year, both Cullins taught at Cal Poly, and even taught one class together.
“He taught the lecture, and I taught the lab,” Nancy said. “It actually was a lot of fun.”
The department proposed the couple teach together, and both discovered it was useful to work with someone who knew them so well, Nancy said.
The Cullins’ also discovered how nice it was to live with someone they were working with, Nancy said.
“Whenever I had a question while reviewing my notes at home, he was always available,” she said.
Things weren’t always so easy for the couple, though. They both worked for Time Corp. when they lived in New York several years ago, and Nancy once shared a story with her coworkers about Erik’s “Pepsi blue” hair in college.
Erik heard about it from his coworkers several days later at a meeting, and was not too happy.
“Then we had a discussion about what’s work and not work,” Nancy said.
Erik now works in San Francisco, and Nancy said in the future, she sees herself leaving Cal Poly to look for a place where both can work and afford a house of their own.
That’s not always easy for two graphic designers, Nancy said.
“Because we’re in the same career, we’ve had these ups and downs,” Nancy said.
Kids and all: Rachel and Francisco Fernflores
Philosophy professors Rachel and Francisco Fernflores found their stability at Cal Poly. The couple has taught at Cal Poly for 11 years together, after Francisco was offered a tenure track position in the philosophy department.
Before that, they met while studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Francisco described it as “love at first sight,” though they remained friends for several months before becoming an official couple.
They came to Cal Poly in 2000 — and married in 2001 — though their relationship was not always simple, Francisco said. While he was studying under a post-doctoral fellowship in Pittsburgh, Penn., he would frequently take Greyhound buses back to Ontario to see Rachel.
Now, they both teach on the same campus, though they have no trouble keeping home life and school life separate, Rachel said.
“We kept pretty separate, and in fact, we don’t even see each other that much at school,” Rachel said.
Even though this may seem unusual to some students, the arrangement is because the couple organizes their schedule around their two daughters, Olivia and Phaedra. Both professors teach at different times, so one can always be free to care for the girls, Rachel said.
“I’ll teach at seven in the morning, and he’ll finish at 10 at night if we have to,” Rachel said.
In between classes, they’ll meet each other in the parking lot to trade off the girls in what they’ve dubbed the “switcheroo,” Francisco said.
The two professors plan to stay at Cal Poly for the foreseeable future, they said. Not only can they manage their schedules around their young family, but they’ve developed ties to Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo, Francisco said.
“We’re really happy with our community here,” Francisco said. “We’re perfectly happy.”