USC Dornsife alumni and faculty find love at Troy
Troy has long been associated with passionate love. The ancient city was besieged for over a decade by King Agamemnon’s army after his wife, the beautiful Helen, was abducted by the besotted Prince of Troy — events recorded for posterity in Homer’s The Iliad.
Romance-making continues in California’s Troy, where the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences has played host to likely tens of thousands of Trojan partnerships over the past 140 years.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, USC Dornsife alumni and faculty share how USC helped them find their match.
Jared and Nicole Sokol found chemistry in, well, chemistry. They met as freshman in the course. They shared their first kiss in front of Leavey Library and have been inseparable ever since, even studying abroad together in Australia. They graduated in 2014 with degrees in biology — Jared earning the honor of class salutatorian — and married in 2018.
Early in 2020, they moved to Boston, where Jared is completing his medical residency at Harvard University’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary while Nicole is a physician assistant in labor and delivery at Tufts Medical Center.The COVID-19 pandemic has made this past year a tough one.
“Through both of our jobs, we have seen firsthand the toll that the pandemic has played on our patients, fellow medical providers and the population at large,” says Nicole. “I’m lucky to have such a supportive partner to hold my hand through the most challenging year we have ever faced. We are both fully vaccinated now and look forward to what the future holds.”
When they aren’t making their rounds the couple — and their bulldog, Benson — enjoy watching USC football together.
Chapel of love
Lesley ’96 and Mark Ruzon ’94 met practically on the altar. Lesley sang in the choir at the USC Caruso Catholic Center while Mark accompanied on piano at 7 o’clock mass. Afterward, the choir and musicians dined out and planned the music for the next service. Over these weekly meals, romance between Lesley and Mark blossomed.
“After a semester of getting to know each other, we realized we were at least falling ‘in like’ with each other,” says Lesley. They continued dating even after Mark graduated from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and headed to Stanford University to for a Ph.D. in computer science.
On weekends, he made the six-hour journey south to see Lesley. In the fall, he’d attend the Jock Rally before USC football games and watch Lesley perform with the Trojan Marching Band’s color guard, Silks. Afterwards, the two met by the fence at Cromwell Field.
The two married the summer after Lesley graduated with her bachelor’s degree in humanities. Their daughter is now a junior at USC Dornsife, studying political science and theatre, and is also a Silk, just like her mom.
The most wonderful place on Earth
Not all Trojan romances begin precisely on campus, but USC’s magic can still lend a hand.
For Irma Vargas B.A. ’09, J.D. ’14 and Juan Rodarte ’14, their relationship began before they were both Trojans. Vargas completed a degree in psychology from USC Dornsife and was then accepted to the USC Gould School of Law. Rodarte was enrolled at East Los Angeles College but decided to transfer to USC Dornsife to study philosophy so the two could be on the same campus.
The couple studied together at the Common Ground café and had a designated bench on Child’s Way where they would meet each other before lunch. They attended football games and memorably rushed the field with fans after a USC vs. Stanford game in which the Trojans came from behind to win.
“Being in love at SC is truly the best,” says Vargas.
Trojan romance also happens after graduation. Emily Sweet graduated with a psychology degree in 2007. She met her husband, Jeremy Lusk, who graduated in 2003 from the USC School of Cinematic Arts with a degree in film and television production, on a dating app. They discovered they were both USC graduates on their first date. And although they’re time at USC was separated by several years, it turned out to be very close geographically.
“After date three or four, we realized that we had both lived in the same apartment building, and then we figured out that we had lived in the same bedroom of that same apartment,” says Sweet.
Astronomy, opera and Italy
Love at USC Dornsife isn’t limited to students and alumni. Sandra Disner, associate professor (teaching) of linguistics, and Robert English, associate professor of international relations, Slavic languages and literature and environmental studies, connected at a reception honoring faculty who, like Disner, had recently received a promotion. The meeting almost didn’t happen, though.
“I had an office hour at the scheduled time, and when I finally arrived at the University Club, people were streaming out,” says Disner. “I might have turned around, then and there, but I reasoned that I deserved a glass of wine for all my efforts over the past few years, no matter how sad it was to be drinking alone.”
It was a fateful decision. A handful of faculty members were still lingering, including English, with whom Disner struck up a conversation. The two hit it off and soon discovered a shared love for opera, astronomy, and Italian food and culture. Disner dropped off homemade baked goods at English’s office while English popped over to Grace Ford Salvatori Hall and demonstrated the sounds of the Russian language for Disner’s phonetics class.
Two years later, on an impulsive spring break trip to Italy, they became engaged. Together they purchased a seaside apartment in a little town near Genoa, Italy, where they’ve already played host to a number of their USC colleagues.
A fateful dinner
Disner and English aren’t the only two who almost didn’t meet. Catherine Theis ’20 was in her third year as a Ph.D. student studying creative writing and got invited to attend a welcome dinner for prospective doctoral students.
She had to force herself to attend. “It was a Tuesday night, I had taught that day and I live far from campus.” But, determined to pay forward the kindness she’d received on her own academic journey, she went.
At one table sat Aaron Minas, now a doctoral student in literature at USC Dornsife.
“I saw him, and his smile,” she recounts, “and I just went over there and said, ‘Hi, I’m Catherine.’ And he said, ‘Hi,’ and then we just proceeded to talk for the rest of the night.”
The two were married in 2017.
Their meeting may have been orchestrated by a higher power. When in Rome a few years prior, while awaiting word on applications to graduate school, Theis stopped in at a little church.
“I said a prayer: ‘Please let me get into USC.’ Then, in late February, I got the call from USC. It was like magic,” says Theis.
She had also been eager to find her partner, frequently lamenting her singlehood to her mother.
The ancient fates may have decided to grant two wishes at once, perhaps demonstrating they still hold sway over Troy some 3,200 years after the Greeks showed up at the ancient city.