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Love and learning
It doesn’t take a computer scientist to recognize that Marianela and John Crissman are in love.
“My horsey thing to your pawn guy,” Marianela jokingly said recently in Northeastern Illinois University’s Ronald Williams Library as she and John played Blindfold Chess, a game in which players imagine a chessboard in their minds and make moves on the imagined board.
Chess is one of John’s favorite games. In fact, they ended up playing chess in a restaurant on their first date. Now, as John and Marianela prepare to celebrate their third Valentine’s Day as a married couple, they are less than three months away from earning their M.S. in Computer Science degrees together.
“From about age nine on, I was in a school that was only for girls,” Marianela said. “So this idea of having the guy I like sitting in the same class I am was kind of new. I completed my undergrad in Venezuela and studied with guys there, but I didn’t like those guys, so this was different. The idea that after class though we could talk about what we learned or share inside jokes on the way home was pretty cool.”
Marianela came to the United States from Venezuela in 2016 with every intention of earning her master’s degree and returning to South America. She’d been accepted to a school in Chicago, but after arriving in the city her financial aid fell through. While she was waiting to hear if she’d been accepted to a university in Florida, technology changed her life.
“We met through an app,” Marianela said. “I was staying near Albany Park and he was near Northeastern, so our radius matched.”
John earned his B.S. in Management from Northeastern in 2014 and was considering pursuing a master’s degree in Mathematics when he connected with Marianela. After chatting through the app, they decided to meet at a local church event.
“I saw him for the first time and the first thing I thought was, ‘I didn’t expect him to be so tall!’” Marianela said.
“I wasn’t expecting her Latina accent,” John joked.
As John began taking classes as a graduate student-at-large at NEIU, Marianela would come to campus with him and make use of the library. She loved hearing students around her speaking Spanish because it reminded her of home. When she realized Northeastern offered a master’s degree in Computer Science, she applied, was accepted and she, too, became a Northeastern student.
“She introduced me to Computer Science, which is just applied math,” said John, who decided to also earn his master’s in Computer Science. “I took some courses and realized I really loved it.”
Sharing a strong aptitude for math and an appreciation of technology, the two attended the Great Minds in STEM Conference in California with Associate Professor of Computer Science Graciela Perera in 2018.
The conference was special to them not only because John placed second in the First Data Analytic CAHSI HENAAC Competition, but because it was at that conference that John was offered a position as a civilian computer scientist with the U.S. Army near Washington, D.C. John, a Marine veteran, has accepted the position and the couple plans to move east following Commencement in May 2020. Marianela plans to look for work in the area as a full-stack developer or software engineer.
“I met Marianela in 2016 when she applied to our Computer Science graduate program,” Perera said. “I felt a special connection with her and share many memories as we are both natives of Venezuela and alumni of University Simon Bolivar. It has been a joy and privilege to have witnessed Marianela’s growth here at NEIU. She is not only my student but a dear colleague as we worked side by side in the Google CSSI-Extension partnership with NEIU. Her impact and contributions to NEIU are far beyond my expectations.”
Aside from computer science, Marianela and John share a love of family and laughter.
“One thing I really like about John is he cares a lot about his family,” Marianela said. “That’s how I am too. He’s always laughing. Everyone has their moments, but I just feel good when he’s around.”
“She cares for people—too much sometimes,” John said. “She loves a lot and I feel like when she speaks with family, she’s very giving. What else?”
“You’re forgetting something,” Marianela joked.
“The food!” John said. “The most the important thing, the food! Arepas (Venezuelan corn bread).”
“His one dish is chicken and broccoli, that’s the one he cooks,” Marianela added. “I’m not an expert in the kitchen, but Google is really helpful.”
John and Marianela shared classes and walked down the aisle together. Their next step will be to cross the stage together at Commencement to receive their master’s degrees.
Perera couldn’t be prouder.
“Marianela and John are really special students,” Perera said. “They inspire me and provide a source of happiness that I cannot describe. Their commitment, passion and enthusiasm for computer science and building community is something I will always cherish in my heart. They have served as mentors, role models, coaches and friends to computer science undergraduates and graduate students. I believe we are a family, and our relationship makes me be a better person. Overall, I believe that NEIU is a very special place because of students like Marianela and John."