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New Virginia Tech doctoral alumni call their relationship “a Blacksburg Love Story”

Amy and Gary Nave stand in the Burruss Hall lobby after receiving their PhDs. She is in a blue dress; he is in a suit with a red and black bow tie
New Virginia Tech doctoral alumni Amy and Gary Nave in Burruss Hall's entrance lobby

Amy Hermundstad Nave is known for her generosity. A faculty developer for the Colorado School of Mines who recently graduated from Virginia Tech with her Ph.D. in Engineering Education, Amy Nave’s kindness almost sabotaged her husband’s wedding proposal plans.

Gary Nave, who earned his Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics in July and currently is a post-doctoral researcher position at University of Colorado, Boulder, planned to ask Amy Nave to marry him while the two were members of the Graduate School’s Global Perspectives Program in Ecuador in 2016. Nave said he decided to propose on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos on a clifftop overlooking the small cove where Charles Darwin first landed. He and the group’s leaders agreed to tell the other scholars that the overlook was small and only two people could go up at a time. Gary Nave said his future wife volunteered to stay behind, saying “Gary and I don’t have to do everything together.”

“I grabbed her arm and took her up the steps to the overlook,” he said.

“Halfway through I realized what was happening when he got down on one knee,” Amy Nave said. Her response? “I squeaked an affirmative noise.” Their fellow Global Perspectives scholars were watching from below and soon joined them on the spacious viewing platform, offering congratulations.

The two said theirs was a Blacksburg romance. She is from Colorado and he is from Virginia, and neither knew each other before they met as graduate students during a goodbye party for a College of Engineering colleague. Amy Nave said there were so many people at the farewell dinner, she and Gary ended up at the overflow table.

“She was there because she is kind and generous,” Gary Nave said. “I was there because I was late.”

They chatted the whole evening and began seeing each other that December, even though their schedules were not in sync. Each time the one had free time, the other had a writing deadline. But their relationship progressed, and they decided to take classes together to earn the Graduate School’s Future Professoriate certificate.

“We were both interested in teaching and we thought the classes sounded interesting,” Amy Nave said. They applied for the Global Perspectives program, which offers graduate students who complete the certificate the opportunity to visit universities in Europe and Ecuador and learn about higher education issues and teaching on an international scale. They were members of both the Europe and Ecuador teams in 2016.

Gary Nave said he finds himself thinking often about the lessons and insights gained during those trips.

“For me, the thing I keep coming back to is that in Europe, universities know who they are and what they want to do. Here, a lot of larger universities are trying to do the same thing. We saw so many different types of universities and colleges in Europe.”

“The program was great at exposing us to lots of different perspectives,” Amy added. “We were particularly interested in how European and Ecuadorian programs meet students’ needs and the needs of industry.”

They juggled a year of research and doctoral work with wedding planning and were married in August 2017, just before they began their final year of dissertation work.

Amy said their exam schedules were staggered, so while one was studying, the other could care for that person. “We knew what each other was going through,” Gary Nave said.

Gary said they helped each other with their research and dissertation writing, acting as each other’s “rubber ducks.” He said that computer programmers keep a rubber duck on their desks, and when they have to work through a code, they do so out loud, explaining the code line by line to the duck. The process helps them “hear” inconsistencies and spot glitches.

“Halfway through explaining, you figure out the answer,” Gary Nave said. “We would ask each other, ‘Can you just be a duck for me for a minute?’”

In July 2018, they successfully defended their dissertations within two days of each other.

At the Fall 2018 Graduate Commencement Ceremony, Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw saluted the Naves, calling their journey a “Virginia Tech story.”

As they stood in their academic regalia amid their fellow graduates and Virginia Tech faculty, DePauw applauded the care they gave each other and their support of each other’s academic endeavors. “Congratulations and my very best wishes to you both!”

Moments later, one after the other, they beamed and stepped onto the stage at Cassell Coliseum with their advisors and received their hoods and diplomas as the audience applauded.

Written by Cathy Grimes

Amy and Gary Nave hold their diplomas after receiving them at the Graduate School Fall 2018 Commencement Ceremony
Drs. Amy and Gary Nave pose with their degrees after receiving them at the Graduate School Fall 2018 Commencement ceremony.