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Dual Degrees, Dual Weddings, and Dual Academic Appointments

Alumni Angelo Tafuni and Carlotta Mummolo

Alumni Angelo Tafuni and Carlotta Mummolo

Although Angelo Tafuni and Carlotta Mummolo both studied mechanical engineering at Politecnico di Bari, in their native Italy, their paths did not cross until they arrived in Brooklyn in 2010 as participants in the dual degree program overseen by NYU Tandon Professor Maurizio Porfiri. Given their shared background, they became study partners and good friends over the course of the program, which culminated with them earning double master’s degrees (jointly bestowed by NYU and Politecnico di Bari).

Both then opted to remain at Tandon for their doctoral studies: Angelo working with Professor Iskender Sahin in the area of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and Carlotta studying Dynamical Systems and Robotics with Professor Joo H. Kim. Angelo successfully defended his thesis on December 14, 2015, and just a day later Carlotta did the same.

Along with their new doctoral degrees came new jobs: Angelo was hired by Tandon’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering as a visiting assistant professor, while Carlotta also remained in the department, as a post-doctoral researcher and instructor.

Meanwhile, their relationship had deepened from friendship to romance, and they wed in late 2016 in New York City, with a second ceremony held in Italy in the summer of 2017, so that extended family and friends there could attend. “We completed a dual degree program in New York and Bari,” they joked, “so why not dual weddings?”

As a married couple, they presented something of a dilemma in academia: the so-called “two-body” problem. University search committees can rarely offer both members of a couple tenure-track positions, meaning that one spouse is left without a suitable job. “We determined that if one of us was offered a good post, he or she would accept,” they explained, “and then the other would keep looking.” While it was probably too much to hope that both would land at the same institution, perhaps they could find something at a school in the same general geographic vicinity. With competition for tenure-track positions exceptionally intense and spouses sometimes forced to live apart for the sake of their careers, the situation was fraught.

They were thus cautiously optimistic when they heard of two openings at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT): one joint position between the Department of Engineering Technology and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and one position in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. (Carlotta’s work with Professor Kim involved using robotics to alleviate mobility problems — his lab has received particular attention for its efforts to develop advanced exoskeletons for those with disabilities affecting the lower limbs — making biomedical research a natural fit for her.)

Problem solved! In each instance (and without even realizing they were interviewing one-half of a married pair), NJIT agreed that they had found a stellar candidate. In the fall, the two begin their new assistant professorships in Newark.

“While they’ll no longer be here in Brooklyn, they’ll always be part of the NYU Tandon community,” Professor Kim asserts. “It’s not every day, after all, that a couple embarks on romance, important research, and high-level academic careers all in a single place.”