Owl You Need is Love: Meet Three Couples Whose Love Stories Began at Rice

Rice Owlentines

For many Owls, the hedges serve as a backdrop of foundational experiences: life lessons, friendships, even the beginnings of their career journey. But for some Owls, Rice is also the place they found their other half. February is the perfect month to feature these Rice lovebirds.

We’ve highlighted three couples whose love stories are inextricably intwined with Rice. Want to see more Rice couples? Visit the Association of Rice Alumni social media account or check out the Rice Owlentines webpage.

An Out of This World Love: Patricia H. Reiff ’74, ’75 and Thomas Hill ’67, ’71, ’73

Over five decades ago, Patricia Reiff '74, '75 and Thomas Hill '67, '71, '73 met as graduate students in Rice’s space science program. “When I met Tom,” Pat said, “I was taking a basic plasma physics class as a first-year student, and he was assigned to be my grader. The department was pretty cohesive, so everybody knew everybody.”

Pat and Tom
The couple in Tom's office at Rice (1985)

Theirs is a Rice love story for the ages — their first date was more than 51 years ago. “Our research fields were very, very similar. We studied a lot of the same things and started collaborating on papers, and it grew from a friendship to a deeper relationship,” Pat said. “He was exceptionally smart, and he was good looking. We didn’t get married until I finished my postdoc in 1976. All three of our children graduated from Rice as well, which is fun. Collectively, there are eight Rice degrees among us.”

Pat and Tom weren’t the only love matches from the space science department. “There were a number of other couples from our department, most of which are still married,” Pat said. “A colleague did a study of women scientists who had successful marriages, and most were married to other scientists or technical people. It’s a different life. It’s not a 9-to-5 job.”

After graduating, Pat and Tom moved for their respective postdoctoral positions but were ultimately drawn back to Rice. “At the time we graduated from Rice, there weren’t any open positions, so Tom and I each did a postdoc,” Pat said. “I went to NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, and he studied at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. We spent that year apart, but we wanted to find jobs together. In science, finding two jobs at the same location is tricky. We both came back to Rice as research scientists/adjunct faculty. We were fortunate to move to tenure track, but it was a longer process, and we spent time as research faculty for a while.”

Before retiring in 2013, Tom served as a research professor of space physics and astronomy, then as a full professor of physics and astronomy. For Pat, the year 2026 will mark 50 years of teaching at Rice. She currently is a professor of physics and astronomy and serves as the associate director of outreach programs at the Rice Space Institute. “When the department merger happened in 2000, I was the department chair for space physics and astronomy,” she said. “That’s when they created the Rice Space Institute, and I was named the first director, where I served for 12 years.”

Pat and Tom are still in touch with their graduate school colleagues and friends, a feat made possible by Rice’s intimate community, Pat said. “We had a dynamic group of faculty and incredible camaraderie between the faculty and the students. We had an intramural volleyball team and intramural softball team, and we’d go on canoe trips down the Guadalupe together. It was an amazing group of people. We have reunions every five years, and we’ve been very proactive in keeping track of and being abreast of our students. We’re grateful that Rice’s small size helped facilitate so many lasting connections.”

Best Friends Forever: Christen Sparago ’15 and Elizabeth Ericson ’10

A friendship that began while they worked at Rice’s Office of Admission turned into love for Christen Sparago ’15 (Martel) and Elizabeth Ericson ’10 (Sid Rich). “We pretty much became instantaneous friends,” Elizabeth said. “We really loved spending time with one another and were glued to each other’s sides as best friends for eight years.”

Christen and Elizabeth
Christen and Elizabeth at the Houston Downtown Aquarium

For Christen, their shared context as Rice alumni and similar sense of humor forged a remarkable connection. “I was excited to meet someone who was so smart and so funny and had her stuff together,” she said. “We hung out constantly.”

Even though they had been close friends for eight years, it wasn’t until last year that the two made the leap into coupledom. “We were best friends — our parents knew each other, we talked constantly, we worked together on campaigns in the political sphere, we made the jump from Houston to D.C., and we started exploring our careers here,” Elizabeth said. “Last year something shifted for both of us. I asked Christen to lunch and said, ‘I think I might be falling in love with you’ and asked her to be my girlfriend.”

Christen said that having a relationship with someone who understands how special Rice is to her means a lot. “There is so much about my Rice experience that is essential to my identity and how I became the person I am today,” she said. “Rice was kind and fun and quirky and cool and a great place for me. What is also cool is that since we are five years apart, our big reunion years and opportunities to return to campus will be happening at the same time.”

The couple said they are grateful for the community and experiences gained at Rice. Engaged in 2023, the couple plans to wed in 2025. “It’s fun to see the Rice connection come back to me in ways I never would have predicted,” Christen said. “There is no area of my life that Rice has not deeply shaped.”

Love Takes Time: Britt Jung ’89 and Tre Fischer ’90

Britt Jung ’89 (Hanszen) and Tre Fischer ’90 (Hanszen) crossed paths as undergraduates at Rice, but it would take over two decades for their love to blossom. “We knew each other and were in the same college,” Tre said. “We had a number of friends in common. I knew her brother and even went to his wedding, but Britt and I never hung out one-on-one.”

Britt and Tre being married
Britt and Tre were married by fellow Hanszen alumnus Paul Tracey ’89.

Britt reports that they hung out with mutual friends at Rice. “But Tre is a year behind me. I did my thing. I played soccer and had my friends.”

After graduating, the two would go their separate ways. It wasn’t until homecoming weekend in 2014 that the duo would bump into each other, sparking their relationship.

“Britt had come down for her 25th reunion, and she was walking to the football game with a mutual friend,” Tre said. “I stopped to chat. Britt and I had become Facebook friends a few years earlier. But I knew she was someone I wanted to talk to more, so I Facebook messaged her afterward.”

A Facebook friendship quickly turned into long distance dating and a move back to Houston to be together. The two married in 2019 and live less than a mile from their old home of Hanszen. “We had so many connections in common, which speaks to the many tentacles of the Rice community,” Britt said. “Rice is so good about building community, and the college system really lends itself to inclusivity. There’s something really personal about a Rice connection. People are willing to open up and trust more readily.”