This Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating couples who met right here at Tandon

smiling couple in graduation cap and gown

Joe Landolina and Courtney Flood

Once upon a time in Brooklyn

Like pi, love is both irrational and infinite, Joe Landolina and Courtney Flood assert. 

That made March 14 at 1:59 in the afternoon the perfect time for the pair to officially wed at New York’s City Hall in 2022. That relatively low-key ceremony took place a few weeks after a gala five-day celebration in Florence, Italy, that stretched so far into the wee hours at one point that police, citing local ordinances, were forced to call an end to the festivities. 

Couple Joe and Courtney walking down the aisle at their wedding

The couple love to travel, and Italy, they say, is among their favorite countries. Their romance began, however, right here in Brooklyn, at NYU Tandon. And while the two are logical, clear-headed scientists, it’s easy to think upon hearing their story that there’s more than a touch of fairy tale in it — a sense that they were always destined to be together. “The cliché is that opposites attract, but that’s not the case for us,” Courtney says. “We have so much in common and are unbelievably alike.”

The first glaringly obvious commonality — although they are too modest to point it out — is intelligence: each began their college journey at an exceptionally young age. Courtney had graduated from high school at 14 and arrived at Tandon to study chemical engineering at 16. (As vice president of marketing and business development at LBB Specialties, she is now the youngest operating executive in the nationwide chemical distribution industry and was recently named to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers “35 under 35” list of trailblazers.) 

Joe’s story is similarly filled with early accomplishments and laurels: working in his grandfather’s upstate vineyard, he had become interested in plant-based chemistry, and at age 17, as a resident in Othmer Hall, he extracted polymers from the cell walls of algae and discovered a matrix that quickly bonded with living tissues. His victory in the school’s Inno/Vention competition as a freshman with an idea for a gel that would stop bleeding instantaneously was just the beginning. Launching his own biotech company before even graduating in 2014 with combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering, he created VETIGEL, a wound-healing product for veterinary use. He subsequently went on to a spot on the Forbes “30 under 30” list, a TED fellowship, and numerous other honors, and he recently received word that the FDA had cleared his gel technology for human use.

Mutual brilliance, check. Similar entrepreneurial spirit, check. And another factor: neither was old enough to drink, so that at the birthday party of a mutual friend and fellow Tandon student  (Hassaan Ahmad, now a VP at Joe’s company, Cresilon), they found themselves chatting, removed from the rest of the party. 

They ultimately discovered they had even more in common than they initially thought: among Courtney’s interests is genealogy, and she learned that while they had grown up on opposite sides of the country, they each had family roots in Brooklyn. Their fathers had been christened at Our Lady of Angels Church in Bay Ridge, and their grandmothers had attended the same high school. (If the Brothers Grimm were writing this tale, those two would probably be depicted mystically arranging for their future grandchildren to wed one day.)

Once Joe and Courtney graduated they were able to indulge their common love of travel and — after they turned 21 — their shared interest in wine. (Joe has a family connection to the industry, and Courtney has been studying for a Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma — a rigorous process that involves learning to identify vintages through blind tastings.) 

On one trip to Rome, they had a meal so memorable that they talked about it for years, and when Joe found out the chef was renovating a castle in Umbria, which would include a new restaurant, he realized it would be the perfect place to propose. (Every fairy tale needs a castle, after all.)

With the pandemic nearing its end and travel once again possible, he booked flights — one set of tickets to Italy and another to Paris, in an attempt to throw Courtney off, lest she suspect his plans. “We think so much alike that I had some idea of what he was up to, but I let him have his moment,” she jokes.  

They agree that after a decade spent intensely focused on their careers, the Umbria proposal and wedding ceremonies in Florence and New York were a welcome dose of frivolity and romance. And while Italy will always hold a special place in their hearts — their dog is even named “Bice” after Beatrice "Bice" di Folco Portinari, the Italian poet Dante’s muse —  they are now happily settled in Brooklyn Heights. “Our family roots are in this borough, we met here, and Cresilon is based here,” they explain. “We love being members of the Brooklyn community.” 

You just might say, they found their happily ever after here.  

Making life together an adventure

When Thierry Sender and Lana Sze were married in 1993 in the chapel at the United Nations, the Unitarian cleric used a quote often apocryphally attributed to the French philosopher and writer Albert Camus: “Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, they say, and one they have kept in mind, metaphorically, throughout their life together. That is unless they’re on the hiking trail. “He’s a very skilled navigator, so often I fall behind and let him lead, while I simply enjoy the view,” Lana says of her husband.

That is not to say that Thierry — who earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 1991 and his master’s in mechanical engineering in 1996 — does all the work. Lana, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in 1991 and 1994, respectively, is especially adept at other aspects of hiking and various adventures: she is, for example, a consummate packer, ensuring that they are prepared for any eventuality on the trail.

Couple Sender and Sze at one of their trails

That division of labor has served them well on numerous occasions, including treks on the 170-km Tour du Mont Blanc through France, Italy, and Switzerland; the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage route crisscrossing the Kii Peninsula of Japan; the almost-80-km rim-to-rim path of the Grand Canyon; and a six-day bike ride from Amsterdam to Bruges. Leveraging their respective strengths — and cheering each other on — are hallmarks not just of their travels but of their entire lives together.

The pair had met as undergrads and often saw each other around campus, thanks to belonging to some of the same clubs and the same co-ed fraternity, having several mutual friends, and working together on the yearbook (“The Pollywog”). That friendly relationship developed into something deeper after one student event, when they decided to grab a bite at the Spartan Diner, then a popular local gathering spot, and ended up speaking well into the night. Because this was in the days before cell phones became ubiquitous, their parents were frantic, they recall, but they still look back on those hours fondly. “To this day, when we’re celebrating an important anniversary or milestone, when other couples might choose something more elegant, we sometimes aim for the nostalgia of a diner,” they say.  

Early on in the relationship, studying took a backseat to dating and their grades initially suffered, they admit. Both buckled down and rebounded by senior year, however, and that brief period of slacking off did nothing to impact their future success: Thierry is now the Senior Director of Technology Enablement at Verizon, while Lana, a seasoned business and technical analyst who specialized in trading compliance and regulatory solutions, is currently serving as a senior requirements engineer at HotelSlash, a travel start-up.

As on the hiking trail, each serves as the other’s biggest source of support and encouragement. “We challenge each other to always reach further and do better,” they explain. In Thierry’s case, that meant heeding Lana’s advice to follow his passions in career settings and not just go with the flow; in her case, it meant believing him when he encouraged her to hike further, become a proficient swimmer, and even run a marathon.

They are, to put it simply, a team, whether that involves tackling a tough trail, a difficult career decision, or any of the other challenges life sometimes presents.

Strong athletes; a strong relationship 

Mike Davies knew he had to move fast. He had registered for three classes but needed only two to earn his master’s degree in civil engineering. He was not yet sure which he would ultimately drop, but Professor Ilan Juran’s urban-systems class was a contender on the chopping block. He realized that if he was going to end up withdrawing, he needed to speak to the pretty girl in the back row soon, in the event their paths did not cross again.

Luckily, she was amenable to his overtures. “The one thing everyone notices right away about Mike is that he has a great smile,” Tiffany Chang says. “And that was certainly true in my case.” 

Davies was living at the time in Long Island City and suggested a first date at a sushi restaurant followed by a stroll around Gantry Plaza State Park, which has a riverfront promenade with jaw-dropping views of the Manhattan skyline. And while that might seem like a setting tailor-made to spark romance, the evening became even more like a scene from a Hollywood film when, unanticipated by either of them, a fireworks show began.

Couple Davies and Chang doing a pose of acroyogaThat romcom-worthy first date bloomed into a relationship that survived across the miles after Davies (who, incidentally, did not end up dropping Professor Juran’s class) graduated and earned his PE in 2016, and two years later accepted a job in Colorado, where he now works in the infrastructure and engineering group at Denver Water. In 2017, Chang received her own master’s degree in Urban Systems Engineering and Management, and she joined him out west in 2019. She was initially hesitant, she admits, not sure she was suited for the outdoorsy lifestyle the move could entail.

Her fears were unfounded: she quickly discovered a fondness for snowboarding and hiking — interests Davies avidly shares. (There’s similarly good news on the career front: she loves her work at Vertex, a leading architecture, engineering, and construction firm where she serves as a project manager in the litigation damages division.)

Davies and Chang have yet another activity in common — and it’s one that many people would consider decidedly uncommon: acroyoga, a combination of yoga and acrobatics done with a partner. 

Davies had learned about acroyoga while attending a climbing gym in New York City and fortuitously discovered a thriving group of enthusiasts in Denver. He and Chang can now regularly be found practicing the sport, which calls upon partners to work together to support each other and lift each other up. You might say that if those fireworks in Gantry Plaza State Park were a fitting metaphor for their budding romance, acroyoga is an even more fitting metaphor for the life they’re building together.

A snowstorm marks the start of a warm romance

If you’re going to trudge through some two feet of snow, with wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour and the temperature plunging to 9°, you probably have a pretty good reason.

Alan Oppenheim had just returned from a stint in Brazil, where he had worked on a grant project awarded to the School of Engineering (then known as Brooklyn Poly) by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and he was earning a master’s degree in industrial management when that record-setting blizzard hit New York City in February of 1967. He had an exceptionally pressing motive for braving the weather: he was in dire need of the $200 stipend check that was waiting for him at the School. For Rosa Oppenheim, the rationale was no less compelling: a first-year undergraduate who had taken on an ambitious chemical-engineering program, she didn’t expect classes to be canceled, and she had no intention of missing a single lecture or lab.

When each arrived at the largely deserted campus, they gravitated to the office of the school newspaper (the Polytechnic Reporter), in Rogers Hall.  Alan had been editor-in-chief of the paper during his undergraduate years, and he figured that he could keep warm and perhaps see a few old friends at the same time; the prospect of warmth and some company led Rosa, who had started to write for the paper that year, to the same destination.

alum couple wedding and current photo side by side

As hoped, a small cadre of hardy souls had congregated at the office, and when the school buildings started to officially shut down, someone had the idea to head to Chinatown to eat. With the subways not running, what could possibly make the snowy trek over the Brooklyn Bridge worth it? For some, it was undoubtedly the fact that you could get a full meal in those days for about 70 cents. But for Rosa and Alan, the food was almost besides the point, and that snowy evening walk with the Manhattan skyline silhouetted against a backdrop of stars marked the beginning of a romance that has endured for more than 55 years. (They point out that the expression “love is blind” was, for a moment, literally true for them. On their second date, with New York City still in a deep freeze, Alan, chivalrously attempting to help Rosa navigate the icy street, took a tumble that sent his glasses flying into a snowbank; both of them ended up crawling around the ice trying to find them.) 

The pair married in 1968 — the year Alan earned his master’s degree — and what followed was a series of school and career decisions that found him working for Sun Chemical; running for office in Nassau County; returning to school to earn a doctoral degree in 1974 from NYU’s Graduate School of Business (now Stern); and ultimately spending some 40 years on the faculty  at Montclair State University, including more than a decade as the Dean of Montclair’s business school.

Rosa, meanwhile, had made the leap from chemical engineering to operations research after taking an elective in that subject during her senior year. Excited by the topic, she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees (in 1971 and 1973, respectively) before embarking on a career that has included posts as the Executive Vice Dean and Acting Dean of Rutgers Business School and Vice-Chair of the school’s Department of Supply Chain Management. The co-author, with Alan, of several books on quality management, she currently holds the title of Dean’s Professor of Business at Rutgers.

They attribute their happiness, in part, to their mutual ability to adjust to the changes life often presents. And while it was certainly not part of their original plan as a young married couple to attend graduate school at the same time, living solely on student stipends, their subsequent careers in academia have been — along with their children and grandchildren — among the greatest joys of their lives.

It may have been a long time since that first snowy walk, but they’ve been keeping each other warm ever since.