Celebrating Their Love in the Graduate Center Library

November 1, 2022

After a decade of dating, two newly engaged Ph.D. students finally go to the same CUNY at the same time.

Ph.D. students Michelle Coleman and Matthew Hackett posed for some prenuptial photos amid the stately volumes and art nouveau details of the Dissertation Room
Ph.D. students Michelle Coleman and Matthew Hackett took their engagement photos in the Graduate Center Library in October. (Photo credit: Desirée Ashley)

Romance in the Graduate Center’s Mina Rees Library is usually confined to books, but last Sunday, it spilled into the stacks as recently engaged first year-Ph.D. students Michelle Coleman (Urban Education) and Matthew Hackett (Biology/Neuroscience subprogram) posed for some prenuptial photos amid the stately volumes and art nouveau details of the Dissertation Room. 

The library offered an elegant and fitting backdrop for the couple, who have spent eight out of their 10 years of dating as CUNY students, although rarely at the same campus at the same time. 

Coleman, who has undergraduate and master’s degrees from Macaulay Honors College and Queens College, applied to the Graduate Center at Hackett’s encouragement.  

“I was the one who had long-time aspirations to go on and pursue my Ph.D.,” said Hackett, a graduate of Queens College and a member of Professor Sebastián Alvarado’s (GC/Queens, Biology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience) lab there. “And then I was convincing Michelle. I told her, ‘Hey, you’re really smart. You really like education, and you really want to help people, and I think you should gun through your Ph.D.’”

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Biology

Coleman had met some students and faculty from the Graduate Center’s Urban Education program while getting a Master of Arts in Teaching at Queens College, and the program intrigued her. “I really liked the community,” she said. Still, she worried about the stress of getting her doctorate at the same time as Hackett. She said she gave herself up to a year to consider her options and then decided, “Let’s try and see what happens, and if it’s meant to be and it happens, we’ll figure it out together, and we’ll do it together.”

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education

Coleman, a former high school English teacher, now works as an academic advisor in the Human Biology Program at Hunter College and sees the Ph.D. as a path to expanding her opportunities in higher education. She is especially interested in ways to create community among diverse students.

Hackett originally wanted to be a medical doctor, but after taking premed courses at Hofstra University and working as an EMT, he realized that he preferred science research to practicing medicine. He transferred first to Queensborough Community College and then to Queens College, where he started working in the Alvarado lab, which studies how gene expression changes in response to the environment. “The relationship between my mentor and me was a very synergistic one,” Hackett said. “And so I finally decided I wanted to pursue my Ph.D.” He chose neuroscience because it merges his interests in biology and medicine. 

The couple held off their engagement until hearing about their admission to the Graduate Center. They weren’t in a hurry. They knew from their first date as high school juniors — a three-hour lunch at a pizza restaurant in Queens — that they would spend the rest of their lives together. When they finally met on that date after a year of talking over AOL Instant Messenger, “We read the writing on the wall,” Coleman said. “We felt like we knew each other for decades.”

They got engaged this past June while hiking in Stratton, Vermont. “We decided, when we get to the peak of the hike at the waterfall, that’s where we’re going to get engaged,” Coleman said. “There was no surprise. We got there, we sat down together, and we just looked at each other and decided, ‘Okay, yeah, this is it. We’re going to do it.’”

Finally going to the same CUNY school simultaneously makes spending time together easier. “We make sure that we make room in our schedule for each other,” Hackett said, “but, also, we accommodate times where we study and we co-work, so we're spending quality time, but we're also being productive individuals.”

Coleman had the idea to take their engagement photos in the library, and specifically in the Dissertation Room. “We've always really loved reading and storytelling and are always gifting each other books and writing little notes in the front and annotating books,” she said. “That's something that's been really important, and so we thought that it would be nice to showcase that by doing it in the Dissertation Room as well — just kind of being surrounded by all these stories and telling our own story.” 

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