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The Great Gamble: An Ashland University love story

“If you want to end up marrying somebody and you have to go through hard things like life, you want to be able to know that they’ll stick it out with you,” said Dr. Cara Rogers-Stevens

The Stevenses work and live together.

But they never get tired of seeing each other.

“I love seeing her every day at work, I love seeing her every day at home,” Dr. Jason Stevens, assistant professor of political science, said.

If he ever wants to see her, what Stevens does is he puts his head out his office door and yells “Hey Cara.”

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Dr. Cara Rogers-Stevens, associate professor of history, puts her head out of her office door since she is right across the hall, and says, “Hey, what do you want?”

Stevens responds with, “I just wanted to see you.”

“I don’t even need the picture on my desk,” said Stevens.

From first impressions to a four-year friendship to a quick proposal, the Stevens’ love story is atypical. But it’s theirs. And it’s far from over.

First impressions

Rogers-Stevens first caught the attention of Stevens during a teaching demonstration in 2018.

“I was sitting in the back of her teaching demonstration in the Ashbrook Center on the eighth floor,” said Stevens. “And I was listening to her, and it was going extremely well.”

As the teaching demonstration ended, Rogers-Steven was taking questions, but then she looked right at Stevens.

She asked him if he had a question.

“I think I went red,” said Stevens, reflecting on the moment. “And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no questions. I’m good. I’m good. Thanks.”

For Stevens, it was not love at first sight, but Rogers-Stevens did catch his attention.

Rogers-Stevens’ first impression of Stevens was more of a thought upon seeing him at first sight.

“I thought he was tall and good-looking and very charismatic in front of a classroom,” said Rogers-Stevens as she looked at Stevens. “But what I grew to really like and respect about him is that he is kind and pays equal attention to everybody that he knows. He is always kind and gracious to people.”

Rogers-Stevens thought it was a mark of good character, but this would come later down the road.

For both, it would not be until four years later the two would go on their first official date.

But why not ask at the first meeting or soon after? There were a few obstacles both had to navigate before going on the first date.

“I didn’t ask her out for four years,” said Stevens. “I didn’t want to end up in the HR department.”

He wanted to make sure he was acting professionally and put to the side any romantic notions.

Stevens decided to let things play out, but after a conference in the spring of 2022 and some help from Dr. Greg McBrayer, associate professor of political science, Stevens finally asked Rogers-Stevens on a date.

“I was fairly confident coming back from that one conference that if I asked her out, she would say yes,” said Stevens.

But for Dr. Rogers-Stevens, it critical that Stevens was asking her out specifically on a date.

Like a mystery, Rogers-Stevens gave him lots of clues for Stevens to feel confident in asking her out.

“Then, he had to be really clear that he was asking me out on a date, not just for a hanging,” said Rogers-Stevens.

Stevens made it clear in asking for a date to her, but her answer was not usual.

She first said, ‘Thank You’, and then, of course, ‘Yes’.

“I was like thank you for asking because I knew it was a big deal and I had hoped that he would ask so I was very happy when he did,” said Rogers- Stevens, as she looked at Stevens.

They started dating on Feb. 20, 2022.

Three-hundred and sixty-one days later, on Feb. 16, they both were at another conference — this time in Washington, D.C — and at the Jefferson Memorial, Stevens got down on one knee and popped the ultimate question to Rogers-Stevens.

Lots of individuals asked Stevens why not at the Lincoln Memorial instead of the Jefferson Memorial since Lincoln is special to him. The answer was simple.

“She’s the one who has to answer the question and so we have to go to a place that’s special to her,” said Stevens.

Roger-Stevens is an expert on Jefferson, and he is special to her.

“It was perfect cause it had been raining all day and the rain went away just as he asked me the question,” said Rogers- Stevens.

She was not completely caught off guard by the proposal but was suspecting and hoping for it to happen. The only detail she was unsure of was when and what it would look like.

Shortly after, on June 9. 2023, the two said their ‘I do’s’ and made it official forever.

A Reaction to Love

Throughout the different stages of their relationship, the Stevenses have received positive reactions from the students and the faculty in the department.

When students first heard they were engaged, students made an Instagram reel with a crowd cheering, looking at a screen, and Stevens even heard that someone shouted the news down the hallway of Andrews Hall.

“Apparently, there was some cheering in Andrews when the news broke,” said Rogers-Stevens reminding Stevens of what happened when the engagement was announced.

Students even came up with a nickname for the couple: “Captain America.”

It was based off Marvel superhero, Captain America, whose name is Steve Rogers, merging the two last names together.

They had no clue about the nickname until after the engagement.

With the students excited about the relationship, faculty equally shared in the excitement.

During the interview with The Collegian with the Stevenses, faculty members kept popping in saying they would tell the “real story” each in a joking manner with a smile on each of their faces.

Executive Director of the Ashbrook Center, Dr. Jefferey Sikkenga, was one who stopped by and commented on the Stevenses’ relationship.

“They are a truly great couple and exactly what academic partners should be,” Dr. Sikkenga said.

From Stevens’ perspective, the faculty in the department pointed mainly to the reactions of colleagues passing by but did point to an exciting story regarding Dr. Burkett, associate professor of political science, when he first discovered their relationship, and Dr. McBrayer helping Stevens asking Rogers-Stevens out on a date.

“We were holding hands and Dr. Burkett was standing next to his car, and he saw us coming out of the corner of his eyes,” said Stevens. “He ducked down behind his car because he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to have seen that we were holding hands.”

Dr. Burkett told a similar story of his experience since he first discovered the relationship between the two but added a few details.

Burkett had no idea until he saw them walking out of the building and ducked behind his truck.

“At first, I was like, what’s going on and then … in my head, I said am I allowed to see this?” said Burkett, reflecting on the moment. “And then third, the sheer happiness hit me.”

Burkett moved around to the back of his truck, so the couple could not see him.

“I let out a little joyful squeal,” said Burkett.

He eventually composed himself and went up to the Stevens’ like nothing was happening.

“I pretended as though there was nothing unusual going on,” Burkett said.

But, inside, Burkett was happy for both.

McBrayer was one who had a more involved role in the Stevenses relationship.

“When I asked her out, Dr. McBrayer was one of the few who knew,” said Stevens.

The two could not wait a full week to go out on their first official date, so they went out on an informal date to get pizza at Ohio Fire.

As the two were crossing Main Street to Ohio Fire, Stevens received a surprising text message from McBrayer.

“I get a text from McBrayer saying like ‘enjoy your pizza’, and I’m just thinking, ‘what the heck’”, explained Stevens. “How does he know? Where is he? And I texted back ‘where are you?’ and his reply was just one word, ‘everywhere’.”

According to them, McBrayer was the only one who knew the two were in a relationship, but word overtime spread quickly.

Meant to be

When The Collegian asked how they knew it was meant to be, Stevens pondered the question while repeating the phrase “meant to be” twice before answering.

As he looked at his wife, he said, “If something is meant to be, you have to work at it every single day. It’s not something that just takes care of itself.”

He continued, saying you must work at it every day and it is never going away. It is something that has always stuck with Stevens.

“It’s because I love her and I want her to be happy,” said Stevens still looking at Rogers-Stevens throughout his answer. “I will do anything for her.”

Stevens never looked away from her while answering the question.

Roger-Stevens continued saying, “We realized really quickly that not only did we have the same academic interests, but we had the same values when we wanted to go after the same things in life.”

She also mentioned that being able to be good friends helped in the process of falling in love with Stevens.

Seven months down, forever to go

The two have been married for seven months.

“I assume at this point we know everything there is to know about marriage,” Stevens joked.

With seven months under their belt, they offered some dating advice to college students.

Outside of their classes, the Stevens’ run a Jane Austen reading group, and they explained that most of time they end up talking about dating, love and romance.

“We have played with the possibility of offering a class of informal reading group on love and dating at Ashland,” said Stevens.

They are hoping that students at Ashland University will be interested in a class or seminar on this.

But, outside of the group, one of the main points of advice was in getting to be friends with those who you are potentially interested in, and to see their character over time in different situations.

“Because if you want to end up marrying somebody and you have to go through hard things like life, you want to be able to know that they’ll stick it out with you,” said Rogers-Stevens.

Stevens chimed in with some advice, mainly geared towards men.

“Always be honest with yourself and her,” Stevens said, adding it’s important to be clear with yourself and your partner.

“Ashland is really a wonderful place to find the person that you want to marry,” said Roger-Stevens to end the advice to students. “You may think of Ashland [as] a small farming community. Everybody wants to escape on the weekends. There’s no reason why can’t find what you really want here.”

This story was originally published on Collegian on February 14, 2024.