Partners on Campus, Partners in Life

Five couples who’ve made a professional home at UTSC

Elaine Smith

At UTSC, partnerships build community, advance research and connect us with higher learning institutions around the world. But there’s another kind of partnership on campus—couples who are both leading researchers in their respective fields.

Cris Rabaglia and Sam Maglio

Cris Rabaglia & Sam Maglio

When Sam Maglio and Cris Rabaglia met in grad-school at New York University, they immediately noticed something in common: the silent g’s in their last names.

That was 2007. It would be another year and a shared statis- tics class before they actually got to know each other.

Sam, now an assistant professor of marketing at UTSC, was studying social psychology. Cris, now a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at U of T Mississauga, was pursuing cognitive psychology. Their shared class required a lot of time spent working in the quantitative lab.

“I tried to show up at the lab when she was there,” says Sam. “I would sit nearby, but not next to her.”

The couple married in 2012. They each do individual research—Sam exploring the influence of time and emotion on consumer behaviour, and Cris examining language processes— but they have begun collaborating. They recently published a paper together about how vowel sounds in a product’s name can influence its success, and have two more in the works.

“It doesn’t feel like work,” Cris says. “It’s like hanging out.”

“Over dinner, we can transition from what the other person thinks about the point a reviewer made to what we’re going to do for the weekend,” says Sam.

Andy Lee and Rutsuko Ito

Andy Lee & Rutsuko Ito

Andy Lee and Rutsuko Ito are emblematic of professional couples in today’s global world, combining cultures and moving where their careers take them.

He is Chinese; she is Japanese. They met in England and taught there before coming to UTSC.

“We love it here,” says Rutsuko, who, like her husband, is a neuroscientist in the Department of Psychology. “Toronto is the kind of place where you feel like you can belong. We like the mixture of cultures and the standard of living.

Andy and Rutsuko met at the University of Oxford during their first week of undergraduate studies in 1994.

“We had common courses and were in the same college, so we were thrown together socially and academically,” says rutsuko. “We were both third culture kids, growing up in a culture not our own,” says Andy. “We had study interests, values, hobbies and religion in common.”

With two young children, they don’t have as much time for hobbies now, but they still enjoy playing music together and composing. Rutsuko is a pianist, while Andy plays piano, violin and guitar. His album of original classical music, Paradise Lost, Paradise Found, is on iTunes.

“I’m not on the album,” says Rutsuko, “although I may have been the inspiration for it.”

Diana Valencia and Kristen Menou

Diana Valencia & Kristen Menou

Visit Kristen and Diana, they might greet you with hola, bonjour or hello.

The trilingual couple, both planetary physicists in the Department of Physical and environmental Sciences at UTSC, speak Spanish at home one week, French the next. english is reserved for the workplace—and for disagreements.

Kristen is from France, and Diana, a native of Colombia, was raised in Toronto. They met at a program in the United States, and “the feeling,” says Kristen, “was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know a person like this existed.’”

“It was real and big and there was a recognition that this was something important in my life,” says Diana.

There was an obstacle, though. Kristen was teaching in New York City and Diana was on a fellowship in France. Conferences in europe allowed them to get together regularly for the next six months, until Diana could move her fellowship to the U.S.

When they began applying for jobs as a couple, UTSC was the best fit. They arrived in 2013 and, together, are now planning and fundraising to create UTSC’s new Centre for Planetary Sciences.

“We know we have to work very hard not to fail, because the university has given us great support,” says Diana. “This is our work baby,” adds Kristen.

Myrna & Andre Simpson

When the Simpson’s twins are in bed, out comes the Xbox. Myrna and Andre Simpson, professors of environmental chemistry at UTSC, relax by playing collaborative games against their computer.

“We play together, with games that are co-operative,” says Myrna. “One of us is very competitive and not happy when the other person accumulates more points."

The Simpsons first met when they were PhD students and project collaborators. They became friends, then partners, and were both hired by UTSC in 2002. Their research collaboration continues, though they have individual labs and separate research programs.

Their newest project uses nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry to examine the health of small organisms at a molecular level as indicators of the health of the environment. If the organisms are stressed, it signals environmental problems.

“Chemistry can tell you straightaway if some organism is not happy,” says Andre. We’re developing a tool to look at live organisms; it will be a game changer.”

Their workplace collaboration is one of the strengths of their partnership.

“We understand each other and our labs work well together,” Andre says. “By collaborating, we can attack bigger problems than each of us could on our own.”

Atiqa Hachimi & Mark Hunter

It began with a flight delay.

Atiqa Hachimi, an assistant professor of linguistics and women’s and gender studies at UTSC, and Mark Hunter, a UTSC associate professor of geography, met in an Atlanta airport in 2005.

Atiqa asked mark if he knew the cause of their long flight delay; as they talked, they discovered a shared passion for Africa. Atiqa is a Moroccan who studies arabic sociolinguistics, while Mark, a Briton, conducts research into class, culture and education in South Africa.

The two kept in touch. He visited her in Hawaii, where she was studying; he went to meet her family in Morocco.

Five months later he proposed, during a trip to South Africa where she met his “family,” the people he lived with while conducting ethnographic research. They married the following year.

Atiqa chuckles. “I had to pass two tests: one with his family in England and the other in South Africa.”

The couple love teaching at UTSC and have even collaborated on a research paper. The cold Canadian weather is another story. With luck, though, their research will take them to warmer climes—and they can share a smile if their flight is delayed.