Welcome to Love Academically, a Nebraska Today series that snuggles up with the stories of Husker couples: how they met, how they wound up at Nebraska U, how they balance relationships with careers or studies at the university. Because love may be patient, kind and blind, but at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, it’s also academic.
Like many in today’s modern age, Derek and Naomi Rodgers were brought together by a mutual swipe right.
Telling others about their online dating origins — the app OKCupid — was once a tad bit embarrassing, they say. But after six years, two dogs, two doctorates and one child together, the two professors in Nebraska’s Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders have come to appreciate the role research played in the beginning of their love story.
“Derek and I are both pretty introverted people, and we’re also very scientific in our thinking about everything. To me, personally, I just felt like going online made sense, because you can vet the person before you even meet them. You have a sense of who they are, and you’re intaking data as you’re making decisions,” Naomi said.
“I think it’s hard for academics or professional students to meet people outside of what it is that they’re doing,” Derek added. “That was just one way of making it a little bit easier.”
The two met in June 2015, when both were in the beginning stages of their doctoral programs at the University of Iowa. Derek was an incoming student in the school’s special education program, and Naomi was entering her second year as a speech-language pathology student.
“What attracted me to Derek’s profile was that I did my undergrad at the University of Vermont, and Derek is from Vermont. His username on OKCupid was ‘vt guy802’ or something like that. So I was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s interesting — you don’t really meet a lot of Vermonters in Iowa,’” Naomi said.
A picture of Naomi sporting a Bernie Sanders t-shirt sparked Derek’s interest, in return.
“To see a Midwesterner supporting Bernie, I was like, I have to know more,” Derek said.
After dating for a little over a year, the couple got married in November 2016.
“It was great being together during our doctorates. I don’t think that I could have done it without Naomi,” Derek said. “The same is true now. It’s helpful to have somebody who’s going through the same or similar things. So when she says, ‘I have to work this weekend,’ ‘I have to work tonight,’ or ‘I’m really stressed out about this thing,’ that makes sense to me. And when I say it, it makes sense to her, because that’s both of our lived experiences.”
The two had their first child, a daughter named Margot, in October 2018. That major life event coincided with another stressful milestone — completing their doctorates.
“It was really difficult at the time, but I kind of romanticize it now,” Derek said. “We would wake up in the morning — and we’d wake up many times throughout the night, too — and I would go into school and collect my dissertation data and then come back and write with Margot. We were living in this really rickety old house built in the late 1890s — remember that terrible stairwell? — and it was just such a weird year for us, having a baby in this old rental going crazy on our dissertations.”
As their May 2019 graduation date approached, Naomi scheduled an interview with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It was her first visit to the state, and she was pleasantly surprised.
“The minute I came to campus for an interview, I knew that this was going to be such a great place to be. I just fell in love with it,” Naomi said. “I came home telling Derek how amazing of a department it was and how welcoming it was. It’s hard to describe the feeling that you get when you’re in a place. It just feels good, you know?”
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but in less than a week I had heard from Sherri (Jones) that they were going to make an offer.”
Derek received an adjoining offer shortly after, and the two began their Husker journey together that August.
At Nebraska, Naomi is working to understand the psychosocial effects of stuttering — in other words, how stuttering can impact how a person thinks and feels about themselves. Derek’s research focuses on the development of classroom-based practices for improving literacy skills, with a specific focus on text-writing interventions for students with mild to moderate disabilities.
“Our work doesn’t overlap, but it is similar in that many students with disabilities receive speech language services — so being in a place where both of our interests are shared is very, very cool,” Derek said.
Now settled in Lincoln with their daughter and goldendoodles, Data and Obi, the two are looking forward to exploring their new home a little more once the pandemic subsides.