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ASU Online leads couple to each other, fulfilling careers

Graphic illustration of two people reaching out from a Zoom screen to hold hands in front of a heart.
February 10, 2023

This Valentine’s Day, roughly 14 million U.S. couples will be celebrating from a distance.

While Chelsea Patti and Alex Peraza are happy to say, for them, that is no longer the case, it was the opportunity to pursue their undergraduate degrees through ASU Online that initially brought them together — and eventually led them to fulfilling careers.

How it began

In 2019, Peraza was working for the Navy in Germany while Patti lived in a rural Pennsylvania town of only 500 people. Those circumstances led them to seek online degree programs that fit their individual goals, which they found at Arizona State University.

Patti pursued a degree in biochemistry through the School of Molecular Sciences, and Peraza studied biological sciences through the School of Life Sciences.

Their love story began in a Biology 182 study group.

“I decided to make the study group through Facebook and post it in Sun Devils Connect for anyone who wanted to join,” Patti said.

Needing all the help he could get, Peraza decided to get involved.

“I’ll join the group and see what comes out of it,” he thought. “I mean, I couldn’t come out dumber. I ended up coming out of it married.”

At first, Patti and Peraza kept their interactions school related. But the two say they hit it off more than either of them expected, and their conversations expanded from there.

They started exchanging text messages about jobs, traveling and future classes they were excited about. The texts turned into phone calls; phone calls turned into Zoom calls and FaceTime.

Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, they bonded and connected even further.

With Peraza living overseas away from family, Patti became a primary person to connect with.

“I’m here (in Germany) by myself and, you know, it was the person I connected with the most outside of my family,” he said. “It brought everything into reality that it was not, you know, just somebody cool to talk to. It was much, much more than that.”

They talked about a lot of silly topics and then moved to serious conversations about life goals, hopes, dreams and fears. All the while they had been building a strong relationship despite having never met in person.

The first meeting

The process of finally meeting in person posed a bit of a challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was hard because we spent months and months talking and getting to know each other and really learning everything about each other,” Patti said. “We wanted to see each other so badly and the pandemic was keeping us thousands of miles away.”

Months of waiting came down to one moment.

In July 2020, the two traveled to New York City from their respective locations — Patti from Pennsylvania and Peraza from Germany.

“I was so stressed. I was so nervous,” said Patti. “This is finally happening. It was the moment we waited such a long time for and couldn’t (have) because (of) the pandemic. I was freaking out.

When they finally met in person for the first time, relief and love erased all the stress and worry.

“We saw each other for the first time and it wasn’t even like I was meeting this stranger,” Patti said. “It was like I was meeting (him) again.”

Eight days later, on July 19, the two were married.

Happily ever after

Two months after they married, Patti moved to Germany and the two began their life together.

Now, Peraza remains with the Navy as a patient movement operations officer, helping coordinate the movement of sick and injured military patients all over the world.

Patti is heavily involved in volunteering with the American Red Cross as a public relations lead, helping to broadcast Red Cross events happening in the area.

Living in Germany makes it possible for them to see the world together. The pair have explored 13 different countries and have plans to visit many more.

In spring 2022, they got their chance to step onto ASU’s Tempe campus for the first time to walk across the graduation stage together. There, their families met for the first time.

“It was a magical moment,” Peraza said. “Like, we knew we were going to graduate. We knew our families were going to be there with us. But what we got was this entity of so much more than that.”

From their first biology class, to navigating the pandemic thousands of miles apart, to their first meeting in New York City to, finally, getting married, the two say they owe it all to ASU.

“I appreciate ASU not only for giving me an education, and you know, all these opportunities, especially as an online student,” Patti said. “But it gave me the love of my life.”

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